Author Archives: littlelostsunny
Sobriety killed my relationship. There it is. Avert your eyes, you Puritans, but there’s no contesting this fact. There’s no tip-toeing around it. There’s no obfuscation that can mask it in some well meaning, yet woefully misguided, attempt to present it as something any less unsavory or dispiriting (ha!) than it is. Sometimes, no, oft times, the realities that we clutch close to our chest are greased thick with grime, caked with a coating of raw sewage. This a stark contrast to that which we wish to sell to ourselves and as an extension, to others around us. We want to salvage and preserve our images with a filtered watered-down version of the truth. We carefully hand select our finest-tipped paint brush and attempt to conceal with precision–electing to serve a glossed and gleamed over finished product. But, who are we kidding?
I’m done pretending. I’m done because at this point I’m not upset about it. I’m not ashamed. I’m at peace with the entire epoch. In fact, it’s almost satisfying to get a strong grip on facts and contexts. I’m able to sit back and objectively analyze the tenets and integrity of my former relationship. From my current vantage point, I can extricate myself from the tangled web of emotional elements and with a clear mind and metronome- steady heart, graph out our timeline: from the early seismic tremors, to the subsequent crumbling, cracking, erosion and and eventual implosion of the structural foundation in its entirety. The book end to a romance that was, for the most part, anything but.
I entered into it as an alcoholic with an alcoholic. A dream duo of dysfunction and delusion. Perfectly synchronized in our self-diagnosis of “crazy and in need of a drink.” We were our own worst enemy until we found each other. Our worlds collided and our vices colluded–our sloppy, sloshy solidarity instantly granting us the illusion of normalcy that we so desperately craved. It was in this state of blitzed bliss that we managed to exist merrily (and chaotically, dangerously, recklessly) for years. Here, in our seemingly eternal haze of inebriation, we lived in chunks of time defined by night and day, light and dark. We hit reset every morning, electing to remember solely the good times from the previous evening–the ones peppered with laughter and mirth–the ones giving us the warm fuzzies, the staying up late, the spontaneity, the careless disregard for societal rules and norms, the hot unhindered, untethered and unpredictable sex, the snark and sarcastic wit that emerged with a few too many down the gullet… the shared memories of careening towards a black-out together. We blocked out the blurry and bleary battles, hid the spilled and broken bottles, skipped over the alcohol-fueled arguments that sometimes got too handsy and hurtful, swerved around the emotional roller coasters that led to holes in the wall, broken furniture, neglected animals, medical bills, humiliation,self-inflicted wounds…mars and scars a plenty. It was messy, beautiful, dramatic, theatric, bombastic and gloriously chaotic…. at times truly Shakespearean.
Then we got sober… at different times…and things changed.
We grew apart because under normal circumstances we would have never been close together to begin with–proximity wise, maturity wise, personality wise, goal wise, etc. Alcohol was our binding agent. We drank together. We meshed beautifully when an IV was firmly inserted into our veins, poison pulsating throughout, with notes of pinot and bottom shelf wood varnish….errr…Taaka vodka to sate the palate and obscure our harsh realities with an even harsher aftertaste. We then became equals. Everything else dissipated in a dizzying fashion the more we drank. Nothing else mattered except our shared desire to drown our disorders out with a neutralizing agent. We felt normal in our abnormality. We continued this way for far too long. Years, literal years of our respective lives.
But, here’s the interesting part…the humanizing element to all of this… throughout it all, we forged a bond that WAS real. The love was real. The degree to which I cared for her was immeasurably deep. All was true. All was legitimate. But, so much of the passion, the desire, that magical spark that serves as the backbone of any long-lasting romantic relationship dried up when the alcohol drip switched off. That love, no matter how pure, profound and substantial, on its own, could be enough to keep us afloat in the absence of all the other myriad qualities and traits that make and shape a quality partnership.
With sobriety came the reemergence of our former selves, of the personalities, peccadilloes and peculiarities that we had sought to outpace and evade in the past through our drunken marathons. We suddenly had to face that which we hoped to never encounter again. That was scary. It was scary then and it continues to be scary now. Essential? Sure. But, a horrifying prospect to come to terms with on the daily. We had to exit the safety of the cave we had holed ourselves up in for the better part of our twenties. The light on the outside was blinding. We were disoriented. We were not adjusted. We were not ready, but who ever is? We stare into the mirror and that reflection we see proves not only to be more wrinkled and aged than we last remember, but unrecognizable on a psychological level as well. There is a lot of anger and resentment boiling right below the surface. And in the months that follow that last sip of scourge of self-loathing is A LOT of introspection and reflection…it actually becomes rather all consuming and inescapable. There is a struggle to accept the wasted time. There is a lot of internal interrogation, a lot of meekly verbalized “Who Am I’s?” Months of this existential questioning and re-discovering follow that last swig of Svedka. It is grueling. It is disheartening, discouraging and disparaging. The days seem long. The nights are longer. All of your troubles and issues metastasize, eventually seeping into and out of every area of your life. Nothing and no one is spared. You start to doubt that any of this was even worth it. That little puckish voice you naively thought you had successfully squandered, re-manifest itself within your ear- whispering sweet nothings, purring and cajoling, pulling and tugging at your increasingly weak resolve. But, you now have control. You have power. You escaped the clutches of a life fueled by liquor… liberated yourself from the libations. You realize you have strength. You recognize your individual worth. And then the brick wall… you look around and grasp that even though you have had someone offering support beside you throughout the entire arduous process- you ultimately did this on your own. You did it. You.
And at this point, you finally get a chance to observe and analyze the situation you now find yourself immersed in. Once you are able to slough off the muck, wipe the crust from the corners of your eyes, shake off the slumber and reorient yourself with the rest of the world– you might come to the realization that you’ve emerged from your cocoon as a changed entity. Post-chrysalis, your wings still wet and folded, you can only focus on yourself and your personal wants, needs and desires. At this juncture you can’t go back to who you were before because you are literally just not the same. And you never will be. That’s ok. That’s good. But, the effect and probable strife that this will have on you and your significant other’s shared relationship is significant and likely insurmountable. It’s no one’s fault. But, it is a harsh, unpredictable and unforeseen post-script to your sobriety saga. All the differences you had previously managed to ignore, overlook or avoid become all that you can focus on. The jarring discrepancies, the varied tastes, the disparate dreams, the dissonance and discord, the utter lack of any commonalities or congruence in communication. Everything becomes magnified. You try to force it for awhile. You want so badly for this story to have a happy ending. You want this to work. You overcame so much. Don’t fail now.
Because, like I previously stated, you grew to love and care for this other person on a level you never thought possible. You would give your life for them, to them, with no hesitation or questions asked. You glean great comfort from their presence. You miss them when they’re away. You spend the bulk of your time worrying about their well-being, wondering what they’re thinking or feeling, and working to make sure they know they are appreciated and important. But, as the days wear on, with your mind and body growing sharper and more aware with each sunrise, you recognize that it’s just not enough. It will never again be enough. Something is missing. You feel lonely, despite never being truly alone. You feel misunderstood despite the other party knowing every intimate detail of your existence and being. You feel ignored despite every word being heard and digested. And you feel trapped despite being offered every bit of freedom you could possibly hope for.
And there we were. We were shells of what we once were as a couple. The fun was gone. The spark and sparkle dulled and turned into ash. We were set in our routines. We could have continued on in this manner indefinitely. We could have. I would have. I’m not afraid of comfort. I embrace monotony, tedium and a repetitive unvaried pattern of existence. I was content. The fundamentals were all in place, the basic boxes ticked off: the love, the affection, the respect, the shared experiences, the compassion. The absence of the fire and flames? I could tolerate. She could not. And that is okay. As it stands now…. she freed us both. I should thank her.
It hurts. It hurt then…it hurts now. Yes, it still stings. But, not as much as the acrid aftertaste of a stale lukewarm shot of vodka at 7 in the morning to combat an oncoming hangover from a week-long bender. And the truth is that at two months into my post-breakup life, the pain has dissipated and has been replaced by a semblance of relief. No regret. No yearning to turn back time and Butterfly Effect this entire situation. Nope. None of that. I now can clearly see this as an opportunity to move forward, to reestablish a friendship with her at some point, and in the process forge a stronger sense of identify for myself. I want to answer that rhetorical question of “Who am I?” with a definitive. I need to know ME in order to know what I want out of life and eventually… in a future partner and enduring relationship.
It’s all for the best.
I mean at the end there… I viewed drinking again as the only way to save my relationship. That’s when you know you’ve taken it as far as you can. That’s when you know that it’s time to move on. I could not accept it then. But, I accept it now.
But, yes…. sobriety killed my relationship. And we knew it might. We knew it was a risk. Yet, for our own personal betterment, we still took that chance. We bit the bullet. We pulled up our big-girl britches and powered through the sobering up process as gracefully and with as much dignity in tact as we could muster. In the end, we failed as a couple. BUT, we succeeded at obtaining control over our own disease.
And that is something.
So, such is life. Win some, lose some. Gain knowledge and grow as a person in the process. I haven’t seen her since the split, but I think we both can attest that we have and continue to do so.
This was written as a response to a recent article I read: Secret to a happy marriage? Maybe drinking alcohol, study says
Alas, I can Absolut-ely see how this study bubbled up into existence. It makes life fun, but there always needs to be more below the surface. My next relationship, if I ever get to that point, will be a sober one (for me) and i will put on zero airs nor attempt to mask who I really am. Honesty all the way!
Everyone wants to be viewed as having it all together. We see this phenomenon played out daily–perhaps most glaringly via social media outlets like instagram, pinterest or facebook. An image of perfection is presented to us–broadcast over the world wide web in bite-sized portions meant to be devoured and lapped up by all the wanting minds desiring to be the best, the most accomplished, the most adored… those desperate to reach the apex of their daily existence… judging themselves against an image, project or posting where every element of what is offered up is edited, manipulated, staged and “filtered.” Yes, it’s a term given to a lens that masks and mars and distorts reality–but, it’s not just limited to an iphone app. We are taught that if we don’t appear, at least superficially, to be buttoned-up, with our backs straight, smiles plastered and posed just so, Stepford-ized to the max…than we’re not truly succeeding in this life. Somewhere… we have failed, fallen and faltered. The appearance of happiness is the standard by which we think we are all being evaluated and compared. And to an extend it’s very true. If we do all the steps society deems appropriate– get a degree, find a career, find a partner, get married, buy a house, have a family, work ourselves towards an early grave, retire, etc. then we should be happy, right? Most of us know that that’s not how it works, but people still fall into that trap. It’s still ingrained in our DNA. It’s in our core.
I have witnessed the behind the scenes world of w hat goes into those supposed slices of suburban utopia–behind those adorable family photographs that get touted as “just another day”-the tantrums, the fighting, the crying, the many attempts at getting just the right “candid”– all in this tragic attempt to capture what we are conditioned to THINK is this perfectly untroubled group of humans living harmoniously with a unified goal–a paragon of happiness… . Rockwellian. I look at people trying so desperately to convince others… and probably even themselves..that they are the most content folks on earth… and I get sad for them. They’re so busy searching for this elusive concept of what it means to be happy–something they are taught from early on that if they fail to achieve it through traditional routes then they are a letdown to themselves and their families–that they’re doomed to be absent for the present… never aware of the moment enough to know if they ever actually experience it. They probably don’t even know what it actually feels like to be unencumbered and free of the stress of searching for happiness and truly living it.
Of course, it is all very subjective. I am not naive enough to think that I’m ever going to obtain this state of perpetual bliss. . I’m not going to wake up one morning after a fitful night of sleep to a world where I’m sunbathing in the sublime from dusk til dawn. My brain is never going to accept calm, peace, and complacency. It’s always going to be on high alert– scanning the horizon for the “What ifs” and “what could bes”…. and it’s never going to allow me to rest comfortably in contentment for too long. I’m going to spend the duration of my life glancing over my shoulder after every couple of tentatively taken steps–ready for the boogeyman to finally catch up and sedate my blissfulness. That’s okay though. Unlike so many of my friends and family, I have no shame admitting that happiness is, more or less, an illusion. I do not fear failure because I have been swimming, or more accurately, drowning in it for over a decade. I’ve had time to sit back and reformulate what I want out of life. And what it means for me to be happy.
My personal pursuit of that is all that matters. I know that it may never be a constant, but it is something I can search for and discover in minutes or moments…seconds or segments. I have discovered that in distancing myself from that “American-dream” oriented type of success-associated happiness–that I am able to obtain something that I deem its equivalent in doses scattered throughout the day. I glean happiness from seeing my partner, my parents, my nieces, or my sister smile. My heart nearly explodes the moment that my eyes catch theirs in that particular euphoric state–shining and twinkling as bright as the nearest galaxy–when their laughter can no longer be muffled. When that unbridled optimism emanates from within them and they unknowingly share it with the rest of us in the room… to be near it… to breathe it in… that is happiness. I feel that internal cheer-o-meter rise significantly when I am around to listen to them recount anecdotes from their day, to witness their successes, feel their levels of pride soar higher than I am ever capable of reaching on my own. The corners of my lips immediately curve upwards, the wrinkles around my eyes tighten, my dimple appears in my cheek, and my smile becomes impossible to hide any longer. Whenever I perform a generous act that brings cheer to those I love– I feel the familiar tingle and satisfying glee. Yeah, it’s a selfish act of selflessness. But, I know it gives me an injection of what I believe to be happiness and a sense of general contentment. I am alone enough, separated enough, isolated enough… all day… to know what power a great stimulating conversation with someone I care about can possess. Those isolated instances can and have pulled me out of those pitch black places I sometimes go to when I lose sight of all the good in my life. I think those unexpected moments are happiness. I think finding that connection is happiness.
Sometimes, I will be sitting in the dark at night, nothing but the glow of the television casting the softest glow upon Meg’s face… as she lays her head on my lap… fighting sleep as she tucks all her anxieties, worries and stressors from the day away in the back of her mind…. that look of peace and serenity on her countenance…the trust that she places in me to keep her safe… the love that emanates from within …all of that will culminate in this epiphany wherein all I can think about is how lucky I am. How… HAPPY… I am to be alive to experience that feeling… if only for a minute. How thankful I am to still be around just to have that memory etched into my mind forever…however long forever really lasts.
So, for me, happiness is real, but fleeting. And it is defined by no one other than myself. It’s insignificant in its presentation. It manifests itself in the mundane. It exists in the ordinary, but cements itself in my memory bank as something nothing short of extraordinary. I do not wake up in the morning expecting to find it. I view it as an unattainable and elusive resource. So, when I stumble over it and suddenly find myself standing amidst that rare light… in that glow we all crave but are incapable of scientifically mapping out… I bask in it. I dance. It might not be the happiness that many correlate with financial or material successes…and it may not translate well to documents or posed photographs, but it’s my own special breed of that feeling or emotion. And I quite like it. I live for it. And I’m usually fortunate enough to touch upon it every day…in some form or fashion. I just had to open my mind and lower my expectations from what I was taught that happiness means. I had to recalculate the meaning of the word. I now see the beauty in something as small as a brilliant blue sky, a warm sun, a song bird, and a breeze on my cheek. I see it as a snuggle from my dog when I’m feeling low. I see it as a word of encouragement from a friend with whom I’ve not spoken with in years. I see it as an ice cold coke that my girlfriend buys for me just because she knows it’s my favorite. Yesterday, I saw it when my mom and dad waved at me on a webcam from a ski-resort in Utah…just to make a connection with me from afar. I see it everywhere.
It’s been a weird couple of days. No need to delve into detail that eludes and evades direct and rational discussion. My thoughts are muddy and muddled and making little sense. I’m running on fumes.
However, I have had a pleasant side-effect stem from all of this. I thought about my grandma a lot throughout my relatively sleepless night and the subsequent quiet contemplative morning that followed. Her presence was jarring, but not alarming. Being startled or unsettled by this would be the wrong reaction to have–she is a constant source of security and comfort when I find myself struggling. As far as I can determine–there was no reasoning behind her resurgence into my consciousness. It’s not her birthday. It’s not yet an anniversary of her passing. It’s just another day in August. However, the meaning behind her sudden appearance from invisible and usually unnoticed hand upon my shoulder to the forefront of my psyche is irrelevant and not worth dwelling upon. These are wonderful memories to have surge and sift through! I did not shepherd her away and will always without questioning welcome any thoughts of her to my day’s happenings.
But, it got me thinking of how grandparents are perceived and how they appear to be expected to behave in this day and age. They seem to have taken on a role rife with more responsibilities and myriad commitments than they had in the past. They’re no longer solely the voices of wisdom, offering up sage advice, and providing guidance when called upon to do so. They are not utilized only in cases of emergency or as a last-minute babysitter when something unexpected arises out of the blue. They seem to now be…. substitute parents…. almost replacing them (or usurping them). They do the fun and the not-so-fun aspects of child rearing. I find this bizarre. I find it jarring. And I don’t know how I feel about it, which is completely useless information to deliver to the internet. But, here i am.
I suppose that I feel so strongly about this because of my own personal experiences growing up. I maintain that one of the best things my grandma ever did for me was to not spoil me rotten. There were never piles of presents bestowed upon me or copious amounts of sticky sweet saccharine nonsense presented on my plate. In fact, I recall so few instances where money was spent on me at all–and those times that I do remember are etched into my brain as being particularly special, poignant and note-worthy It meant something more to me because of their infrequency.
As a young whippersnapper, my cousin and I would make plans to spend a night or two together at Grandma’s. My grandpa was no longer alive and it would just be the three of us. When we were there, we would partake in these little mile-long outings together. He and I would set out on these sojourns to the closest eatery, Jack-in-the-Box, for lunch by foot or by rollerblades–while my grandma would get behind the laughably over sized ship-style steering wheel of her gigantic automobile–the precursor to the SUV–the Scout II…and meet up with us at our dining destination. Chicken fingers, curly fries and a chocolate milkshake for me… cheeseburger, fries and a soda for my cousin… and for dessert? A trip to Eckerd’s Drug Store for a small little gift to play with during our stay at 1005 Thomas Avenue. When I say “little gift”… I mean it. The prices of these prizes never amounted to more than two dollars. We were both very fond of Hot Wheels cars and Andy and I would spend our allotted aisle time inspecting every millimeter of the tiny die-cast vehicles in their bright and crisp blister packs. The decision-making process was never taken lightly and could make or break the level of enjoyment derived from our weekend shenanigans. May the best car win! Vroom Vroom! Between the two of us, we had a fairly large collection amassed. He and I would admire each other’s cache with respect rather than envy… okay maybe I was the teeniest bit jealous of his green Mercedes convertible with its pearl finish and tan interior and perhaps he ogled my red Viper with gold hubcaps more than I was comfortable with. But, for the most part–we played together wonderfully. Hours upon hours were spent building up our fictitious towns– Legos and Lincoln logs forming the foundations for our garages and numerous edifices. The bulk of the time was spent creating the canvas upon which to park and show off our vehicles. Once that step was completed– the game was essentially suspended for that session. It was all about the element of construction and one’s ability to present their proud and shiny medley of minuscule machinery with the most flash and skill. He was a master crafter who could create wonderfully engineered and meticulously orchestrated wonders….architectural delights. Sound and sturdy. Multi-tiered and aspirational. Mine were… well…more akin to giant parking lots complete with crude fencing around the perimeters and with the propensity for roofs to collapse during the earthquakes created by foot traffic… or the hurricane-like forceful gusts of my panicked labored breathing as my concentration and attention span grew exhausted.
Yet, regardless of the outcomes–fun was always had in excess. We didn’t have fancy accessories or store-purchased kits with which to embellish our creations or give our creativity a boost. My grandma had an off-white plastic bin in the “toy room” at the back of the house… filled to the brim with an assortment of cut blocks of wood. There were a wide variety of sizes, widths, and textures–all lying there eagerly awaiting the hands of two elementary aged children to reach out, grab them, and give them a purpose again– Their origin remains a mystery, but there they were–cut, smelling of aging humid timber, and ready to be brought back to life. We literally were gifted a box of wood, appreciated it, and let our imaginations run wild with it! Frequently, there would be some dead bugs wanting to join the party(usually roaches, ick!), mixed into the array of constructional materials… but, once that situation was taken care of–we were granted with endless opportunities to build up our little worlds in the manner in which we saw fit. No instructions. No guidelines. No boundaries. No limits. It was all up to us. And we thrived because of it.
The other toys available? Well, had a couple of mismatched sets of plastic Cowboys and Indians figurines in a taped together ratty old cardboard box, edges feathered and tethered, disintegrating from the frequent wear of tear of our grubby little paws. We had a chest-of-drawers with coloring and painting books stored within the confines of those cavernous cabinets– real Crayola Crayons and a plethora of paint brushes from which to choose. There were many puzzles with varying levels of difficulty, materials and subject matter. Most, if not all, of these items seem to be acquired from garage sales. There were a few archaic plastic games from yesteryear.. a vintage Tomy Strolling windup bowling game and one that used baseball cards as batters. We had an exercise bike that was questionable in regards to safety–especially when the sole goal was to see how fast you could pedal. Bruised shins and unrivaled fear were commonplace. There were many many rounds of tic-tac-toe and intense matches of Go-Fish, Battle, and Hi-Lo. There were chain link dog leashes that we would hook up to the overgrown tree-like bushes outside–attaching them to our belt loops and pretend as though we were rappelling from dangerous and rugged terrain. We played with sticks and rocks. We rode trikes and bikes in the driveway–hooking up a little homemade trailer to the hitch and hauling “lumber”. We raked the lawn. We braved the darkness, the odorous nature of chemical inhalants and fertilizer, and the inescapable insects, using nothing but flashlights and an adventurous spirit as we perused the shed in the backyard for oddities and peculiarities. During our quieter moments, we would hole ourselves up in the rickety old 1970’s era camper trailer parked in the side-yard. We’d pretend we were vacationing out in the wilderness somewhere together– he recalling upon actual memories spent doing just that– me… cobbling together my own imaginary recollections to create a new original narrative. I never did go camping with them, but I got to live out the experience by wrestling and subsequently claiming my sleeping quarters in the bunk near the ceiling (the best spot!), by opening the hatch on the roof, climbing up the ladder on the back, by eating our sandwiches, playing cards, and reading magazines at the dining booth. Only thing missing was the bugs, the boredom and using the bathroom on board. Could have fooled me– I felt I was living and experiencing it all. But, I never left the driveway.
We would ofttimes find ourselves doing little more than lounging around in the back yard with grandma beside us… she recounting stories from her past to our wanting ears… we all rocking back and forth in that wooden swing… two vastly different generations…in such synchronization and solidarity…sharing bloodlines and backgrounds… and enjoying, no, REVELING in each other’s company with such feverish intensity that planning our next visit was being discussed before the current one even had a chance to end. We were lucky. We only lived a few miles apart. He lived fifteen minutes down the highway and I was just 2.5 miles across town. These sleepovers may not have occurred with the frequency that I remember, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? In retrospect, it seems as though my childhood was chock full of positive and plentiful moments spent with my cousin at Grandma’s house. There were no frills and no fluff accompanying these visits. She was kind and compassionate, but never afraid to reprimand us when we got out of line. Her sternness would come as such a sharp right turn from her typical delivery–which was almost always genuine, cheerful and accompanied by a little bit of giddy laughter. It was so jarring that it rarely had to be utilized and was always heard and abode by without a second warning ever needing to be issued.
Our routines were relatively structured. We slept when she slept. Well, okay, she would drift off during the day with her head tilted back onto the cushion behind her–mouth agape, snores reverberating loudly against the walls and windows– we wouldn’t sleep during these periods, rather we’d chuckle under our breath and try to tickle her with bird feathers. However, at night… our schedule was dictated by her own. She would make a pallet on the floor of her bed and we would curl up in it while watching her dial-tuned television flicker steadfastly on throughout the evening–during the winter, the space heater warmed our toes and gave us comfort. Our dreams saturated with reruns of “Night Court,” “Mama’s Family” or whatever was on during the late hours. If we could get away with it, Andy and I would take turns playing Tetris on his Gameboy. I was not fortunate enough to have one of my own, but he was more than willing to share it and for that I continue to be grateful. When the morning came, she would not ever drag us out of bed prematurely, despite her rising at an ungodly hour. Nope. We could sleep until around nine–and then gather around the kitchen table for a simple breakfast of corn flakes, toast and jam, buttery pound cake, or on the rare occasion: Church’s Chicken biscuits. Other menu options throughout the day? I distinctly recall eating a lot of frozen microwave baked potatoes, handfuls of Fritos and saltine crackers, and to sate our eight-year old sugar-fiend selves: gummy orange slices, store-bought oatmeal and sugar cookies piled up to the brim within the parakeet and panda bear ceramic jars on the counter top, sherbet, icebox pudding pies with graham cracker crust and Cool Whip and whatever candy we inevitably picked up on our outing to the gas station at the end of the street!
Other times, we would stroll down Thomas Avenue, through the church parking lot, and straight into Candy Cane park with Sissy the dog and Grandma in tow. Here we’d swing on the metal ponies, climb on the monkey bars, summit the steel structures and tumble over the wood and tire “car” apparatus. Countless hours exploring and running free. So much time spent in our own world, developing and growing our ability to create something from nothing, all while under the watchful eye of our Grandma Helen. I can’t imagine how bored she must have been during these visits, but she never complained to us. She never made us feel as though we were an inconvenience or a nuisance. We never felt like we were unwanted. But, we also never made her the star of the show. She was our guardian, but we knew that we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) look to her as our sole source of entertainment. We did revel in the times that she would indulge us in trips down memory lane–me especially– flipping through old photo albums, scouring over nature books focusing on backyard songbirds or the mountains of Colorado, having her show me her old paintings and sketches. We lapped it up. However, for the most part, it was left up to the blank slate of our whim and whimsy to fill up and fill in the hours spent at her house. She offered the venue, the supervision, the patience and the few random tools we might require and then she unhooked us without hesitation, fear or regret and let our brains serve as the compass plotting the weekend’s course.
I was and am still indebted to her for this.
My nostalgic cup runneth over with such beautiful memories of her and the time we spent together. Yet, none of them are connected to purchases she made, items she bought or the result of any extravagant expenditures or grandiose gestures of any kind. She literally opened her home and her arms to us and that was all we required, wanted, needed or craved. She was enough. And she will always be enough. Even after Andy and I drifted apart and stopped spending our weekends at Grandma’s… she continued to remain a constant fixture in my life. Just her. Looking back, I don’t remember a single Christmas gift she bestowed upon me. But, I do remember helping to decorate the exterior of her home with my Dad and cousin– draping it in colored lights. I remember the Christmas afternoons spent sitting in her far-too-small living room with the ever expanding Smith clan and knowing what it meant to have a family that loved you– a family where the laughter deafened the sounds of tears and the warmth from love could thaw all the frigidity the world could ever throw at us. I don’t remember any birthday presents she brought to me, but I remember what she would write inside the cards. She never would forget a birthday and she was in attendance at every one. I don’t remember her taking us out to see a movie in a theater, but I do remember watching “Sister Act” on repeat on VHS tape in her living room. I don’t think she ever contributed to my large library of books at home, but she definitely took time out of her days to read out loud to me when I asked…. even though her selection was small and led to her reciting her least favorite of all: “Green Eggs and Ham” more times than I’m sure she would have preferred. And because of this… I can instantly recall her voice and the face of disgust she would make at the material as she read it out to me. I do not remember her buying me trinkets or figurines, but I do remember her letting me go underneath the spare bed in the guest room and hand select some of her own to take home with me as a keepsake: birds and dogs that continue to be displayed on my mom’s shelves. She might not have gifted me new stuffed animals whenever I asked for a new addition to the fluffy furry family I obsessed over, but I do recall that her favorite toy from when she was a little girl was a panda bear. And I take comfort in knowing where that little buddy is today (in a cabinet in my parent’s house). I don’t remember her buying any new clothing for me, but I remember playing dress up with her, trying on her jewelry and spritzing myself with her perfume, sorting through her and grandpa’s closet, and even still could probably recall 99 percent of her wardrobe by heart. I don’t remember her ever coming over to babysit. Yet, I remember her coming to every basketball game I ever played in. I don’t remember special accommodations being made for me. I don’t remember those things. But, I will never forget HER. She, with nothing more than her presence… her existence…her endless supply of love… was able to carve out a place within my heart that will never be able to be filled by anything or anyone else. It has remained empty since her passing over a decade ago. On the plus side, I was able to have her around until I was in the middle of my high school career. Not long enough….it never is…but, it was enough to have provided me with so many blessings and cherished memories and moments that will remain with me for the rest of my life here on earth.
No idea why I’m rattling on and on about this. I guess I just miss her. It’s raining and murky outside. I’ve been struggling mentally with many issues as of late. And so I’m choosing to focus on the few good thoughts that manage to make their way inside my mind. I guess I just want to remind everyone out there that material objects are overrated. I know it’s near impossible to grasp that in this consumerist culture. We are glued to our screens. We are always one-click away from owning more toys. It’s so easy and quick to buy buy buy more more more. More is better. That’s what they say. But, it’s not true. All you need is just…. enough. Subjective, I know. Enough for me as a kid proved to be what I could carry in my Hot Wheels carrying case and within my head and heart. I might not have thought that at the time. Yet, with hindsight… it’s all I have managed to carry with me through the years. We’re kidding ourselves into thinking that objects make us happy. We’re losing touch with that which really fuels our fire. We’re better off when we are the creators, the inventors, the engineers… when our happiness is not dictated by what we own but how we feel. My best memories of my youth were not due to things bought from Toys-R-Us but by the world I constructed out of dreams, wishes and desires. My grandma gave me the best gift of all in providing us an outlet with which to stretch our wings safely and securely. She did us a favor by not buying our love and affection, but by allowing it to develop organically. What is more authentic than that? We loved our grandma because she was our grandma– no strings attached. We never went to see her because of an expectation beyond that which only she as an individual… as a person… as our grandma could provide: her company, her attention and her love. That was all we wanted. And that was more than enough. heart emoticon
And man… do I miss her.
Confession: I carry a notepad with me almost everywhere I go. In my imagination I hope that when I say that you visualize a gumshoe or ace reporter of yesteryear—one with a fedora on her head, pencil behind her ear, full of ambition and rattling off phrases like “What’s the scoop?” Because honestly… I do feel quite like Harriet the Spy when I whip out my archaic recording device, flip-open the lined sheets of paper held together by cheap Target dollar spot metal coils–essentially a twisted up paper-clip….flimsy and unreliable….like my brain. Hell, I love the imagery it conjures up. It’s comforting and classically cool.
The reality is, as it so frequently is, less impressive than the fantasy.
I don’t carry it because I am an observer of the world around me… always trying to solve society’s woes or crack a code or thaw out a cold case. Nope. I am utilizing this degree of documentation to fill the void left by years of alcohol abuse. See what I mean about reality and its penchant for epic disappointment?
Drinking as heavily as I was, with the frequency and consistency that I somehow was able to maintain, with the low quality of the tepid wood-varnish variety vodka I had on a continuous IV drip directly through my bloodstream…. I was able to cause irreparable damage to my nervous system. No surprise here. And no debate to be had. Last year, when I made the life altering decision to put away the shot glasses and retire the vomit bucket for good— when I determined that the hangover I had that lasted from the 14th through the 16th would, in fact, be my final throe into poisonous torturous despair…. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that I was going to come face to face with a slew of uncertainties: mental, physical, emotional as well as otherwise. I understood that such transformations could not be entirely predicted—rather only anticipated with hand-wringing levels of anxiety and suspense. I had a tacit understanding with my body and mind that I knew I was in for an uphill battle and that I would do whatever it took to maintain some level of sanity throughout the arduous process. I did the research. I read the facts. I read personal accounts. I brushed up on my science. Yet, still, all aspects of my being were uniformly terrified. Any foray into the unknown gives us some degree of trepidation and this was no different. The fear began to manifest itself in to specific areas of the monumental task I was beginning to embark on. I was not necessarily afraid of abandoning my metaphorical crutch–or of losing my cocktail of mock-confidence–or even at the daunting notion of learning how to fill the day now that you have so much free-time. It was not even the physical taxation of withdrawal that sent shivers down that spine–the one that wasn’t sure if it was quite ready to shirk away into submission or straighten up. Those were all concerns, yes, but, they were not the most crippling of my imminent fears. The victor in the competition to claim the coveted position of “most frightening” was addressing the permanency of the damage that had already been done.
One of the perks of subsisting on a clear colored chemical was that I didn’t have to worry myself with responsibilities or pesky realities of every day life. I didn’t have to be confronted with uncomfortable truths or burdened by facts that might quash my buzz. Any obstacle that managed to unearth itself and attempt to outstretch its reaper-like bony fingers in my direction, beckoning at me with an overly dramatized curl of a limp wrist and begging me to heed its warnings of doom and despair were quickly and swiftly extinguished with another couple of rounds of liquor poured down the ole’ hatch. Anything threatening my carefree consciousness could always be fogged over and forgotten. The blackboard was constantly being erased of all traces of pertinent information needed to thrive, excel or even exist in the world in which we live. My reality, during this muddied epoch, was distant and alternate from the one I share with you all now. All of this was calculated. Although my initial foray into the world of stupor and blackouts started innocently enough—the dark shroud that addiction can pull over you was not a wholly unwelcome one. It was oddly comforting. It protected me. I wrapped myself tighter and entrenched myself deeper into its trenches and into the rabbit hole.
But, that post is for another day. The point of mentioning it is that I had enjoyed living in the mindset that everything was reparable and repairable during this period of time. I was young– my liver would bounce back (It did, mostly, liver function tests are fine—fatty liver remains). My mind resilient. Indomitable. It would recover. I would recover. This was the liquor talking. It was our humanly inherent justification instinct kicking into high gear. It was wrong. So, here we are. It’s been a year. One whole year of slaying dragons, defeating demons and battling the banshees that scream and berate relentlessly in my ears throughout the day. The temptations are strong. My tenacity stronger. Not every day is created equal. But, what I can count on with 100 percent certainty, is that each and every morning provides another opportunity—another opportunity to either crumble under the weight of the remnants, rubble and shambles of my former self or to strap on my armor, assemble my artillery, and through sheer grit and determination vanquish the seemingly indefatigable foes once again. The intestinal fortitude that I have discovered and latched onto throughout this process has surprised me in the most wondrous of ways. I am a warrior. I am a conquistador set to conquer and quell that which they said could not be done. And I am winning at this sobriety thing. I am actually doing it. I am living proof that it can be accomplished and not only that it can…but that it should be done. It is not a sentence of mediocrity or of an existence situated in the mundane… or to just be endured…rather it is a journey in progression to be embraced and celebrated… even the messy parts…even the moments that find you at your most vulnerable and pathetic. When stumbling through the steps of sobriety— the beauty is that you remember each moment…never to forget again. Or do you? Well, that’s a little more complicated. I will explain.
Indeed, reflection and introspection have served me well during the past calendar year. While, as previously mentioned, I may choose to detail out this odyssey in its entirety at a later date, for now I offer to you an area that has proven most fascinating to me on a personal level. The rebuilding of a mind pulled, pushed and put through the proverbial ringer. I was a willing (yet woefully unprepared) participant in experimentation at its most lethal and unforgiving. We took the healthy, yet already psychologically decrepit and emotionally scarred, brain of a twenty-three year old and binge-drank it to near fatal levels for years. Over and over and over again. We started slowly and worked up to the frenzied fanaticism of a newly minted law student out to change the world or the unbridled enthusiasm of a young perky Kentucky blonde getting off the bus on Hollywood Boulevard. I full-throttled this research study…dedicated scholar in the sloppy science of the slovenly and sloshed that I was. I was the shaman of the spiritual world of, well (ha!), spirits (haha!). All of that said… I was a mess for years. I would begin and end the day with a thirst to quench and it was done so with copious amounts of alcohol. It wasn’t a bender. It wasn’t a weekend distraction. It was a 24/7 lifestyle that I carved out for myself. I cannot stress enough how serious my addiction was and for how long it was that grave, dire and severe. BAC levels taken, while still able to walk, talk and process my surroundings, were clocked at over .35. These results are not from a crude party toy that someone’s parents bought them to keep in their car, but the numbers from laboratory tests at the hospital. This was also not abnormal. This was my constant. A handle of vodka (1.75L) would last two or three days. I drank until I was poisoned more than the desired amount or initial intent— I drank until I’d be reduced to an incapacitated, trembling, retching, convulsing, drenched and jaundiced mass of misery on the bathroom floor. Unrecognizable and unworthy. If I ever managed to achieve some version of sleep—I’d fear it’d be an eternal slumber rather than a respite from the living nightmare I was consistently enduring. I’d drink to escape the woes of everyday toils and turmoils and live in fear of being too successful. I drank to forget. I drank to not feel. Sometimes I’d drink to remember that which I forgot (“Oh, yeah, I put my keys into the freezer so they wouldn’t get too hot because it was 100 degrees out yesterday and I felt that they might melt.” Exaggeration, but you get the picture). And sometimes I drank to not feel the physical ramifications of the previous night’s mistakes (hair of the dog). The intoxication was not limited to a smile-infused jovial high, but served as an active contributor to the lowest of lows—the buzz never dissipated, the haze never lifted, the fog grew impossible to elude or escape from. It followed me everywhere. It was unshakable. The dizzying affects made the transition between consciousness and conscience blur to the point of being indistinguishable from one another. I was stuck in some sort of eternal purgatory—unsteadily straddling life and death…unsure which was more enviable. Rinse and repeat. The spin-cycle always in motion—never reaching completion. Or for some “Grey’s Anatomy” parallels— the carousel never stops turning.
Until it did.
And welcome to today.
I came home from a walk this morning with the thoughts in my head cranked up to eleven. If I could anthropomorphize the synapses firing inside the cranium, they would strongly resemble the coked out weekday warriors of Wall Street in the mid-1980’s…with less strippers..way less strippers. I could not, for the life of me, silence them… or even quiet them. Ideas were bouncing off the interior of my skull in rapid fire succession. POP POP POP. My body was in recovery mode from the heat and rigor of the outdoor work-out, but it was as if my brain was just now getting started. It was revved up, roaring and ready to go. But, to where? Problem was… there was too much at once. The thoughts were non-linear, scattered, and jumping from topic to topic in such a way that they could not be corralled, controlled or quarantined. I couldn’t concentrate on one long enough to give it a chance to blossom and bloom from concept into actual. They flitted about in such an erratic fashion that I am sure that the emotions in the cortex control room (think Pixar’s “Inside Out”) were probably bopping and bobbing their heads about like they were watching a ping pong match or a fly buzz around the room. A brilliant spectacle, our mind at its most optimal and finest showing, to be sure, but a wasted one. It took a long cold shower to calm the fervent storm into a far more tolerable, yet still quite frustrating, drizzle. I could once again focus. I could breathe without my chest pounding comically from the excess stress and adrenaline. Whew. Crisis averted.
But, this is the type of challenge that I now welcome and even appreciate. It’s reassuring in that it proves that I’m still here—that I’m still capable of formulating concepts and ideas. That I’m not completely broken or fully lost. That knowledge is not irretrievable or absent. That there is still a thriving world beneath the skin and bones housing the most important parts of me. This is, however, also indicative of some of the lasting issues I struggle with even now—even with 366 days of sobriety under my belt…. hence, I carry my trusty sketchpad with me—always armed with the tools necessary to transcribe onto paper any of the words or thoughts that spontaneously and unceremoniously erupt as I go about my day. Always unannounced, always intense, and ALWAYS extraordinary and miraculous in their sheer existence. During the course of the past twelve months—there have been moments, many moments, where my mind would work against rather than in cohorts with the rest of me. I would attempt to vocally convey my thoughts and end up grasping at thin air where I foolishly expected words to appear. Nothing but blank spaces and dotted lines against a black backdrop of empty space. To be fair, this still plagues me on a daily basis, but the issue has improved dramatically since the first couple of months.. where it was a welcome surprise when a coherent sentence was formed or when I was able to communicate on a level above that of the most rudiment of cavemen. Guttural grunts would probably have been more effective than whatever gobbledy-goop oozed from the corner of my droopy dopey lips. For a WordSmith (!) this proved the most frustrating of the side-effects that I have encountered. Even still, I am able to recognize my good fortune and do not take any of this for granted. My body has bounced back from the brutality it encountered at my own hands. I Benedict Arnold-ed myself. And I am lucky to be here. There is no explanation for any of this, but I am stronger than ever. I did not deserve such an auspicious outcome, but I treasure it. And through an immense amount of faith, patience as well as self-prescribed therapy through writing and blogging— my brain has, for the most part, returned to its pre-drinking performance level. It’s impossible to know for sure how much I lost or how much harm was actually done through the years of heavy drinking I partook in. I will never have the imagery or scans of my pristine untarnished unblemished mind of which to compare and contrast its current state with. Perhaps there might have been no limits to the level of genius I could have reached had I skillfully managed to maneuver this tragic detour–had I chosen to avoid diving head first into the deep end of alcoholism. I will never know. I cannot know. And I should not dwell on that which I cannot change. Oh, I see now why AA embraced the serenity prayer with such ardor (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference).
All I can do now is focus on each day as an individual entity separate from the one prior. I must accept and acknowledge the challenges that stem from each and every one as they come. For every twenty-four hour cycle is presented to me wrapped up nice, neat and tidy-like with a bow. It is confounding, even to me, even now, how I welcome this opportunity with such inscrutable conflicting feelings so simultaneously polarizing in nature: impassioned excitement and debilitating fear. But, the rational side of me continues to win out with the acknowledgment that when my eyes crack open after a night of slumber to a world filled with light and life—that I have been provided a gift that is both undeserved and seemingly against the odds. I embrace the struggle of the daily dealings that existence dictates as I navigate through the treacherous waters without a compass or guide just like everyone else…one foot in front of the other. Instead of lamenting the time that I wasted or drowning in despair reminiscing of the failings of the past or the setbacks that I faced— I think of the future and what all is left to discover and to accomplish. I stick my hands into my chest and grip the sinewy fibers surrounding my heart and feel the unmistakable “tha-thump” pounding and pulsating within the confines of my ribcage…everything within ticking-and-tocking like clockwork…despite the battering and splintering, and wearing and tearing. Those are my war drums. They provide the rhythmical soundtrack that leads me into battle—that give me the strength and perseverance necessary to wade through the residual muck left over from my the mistakes in my rear-view mirror. Through necessity my entire internal processor has reformatted to provide me with the best possible chance of survival— my negativity replaced with an upgraded unit capable of putting a positive spin on the most atrocious of realities. Sure, I am still a realist… a Dr. Temperance Brennen, a Daria, a Debbie Downer. But, when it comes to keeping my personal outlook and morale up—I am Sunny Sunshine. I am a living personification of my moniker. I find solutions to the problems scattered in front of me—one at a time… or if you prefer your overused cliches in the Roman Emperor variety: brick by brick. I have learned to chip away at the insurmountable— breaking down the massive infrastructures into less formidable opponents, with my tiny little pick-ax hard at work, never a moment’s rest (think of the diamond-mining dwarfs of Snow White lore size.)
So I have lapses in my memory? I admit it— I have a mental handicap when it comes to my ability to conjure up every detail my mind formulates during its name-worthy brainstorm sessions. I might say something out loud and not be able to repeat what it was thirty seconds later. So what? I write it down. I document that it occurred and have the scribbled out proof to remind me of its existence at a later time. I consider it not as a damnation to suffer a life of mediocrity or as a weakness dictating the quality of my existence or definition of my character, but as a reminder that we are not infallible. We are predictably imperfect. Industrious, inventive and ingenious, yes. But, all susceptible to missteps, setbacks, bungles and collapses in judgment. It does not have to be a death sentence. I am out to prove that I am as erudite, sharp, quick-witted and annoyingly intelligent as ever. It’ll take some time to get everything back…. but, my patience is paying off. And who knows? I might be able to help you with your grocery list at some point—I do make a note of just about everything that wafts into my ear canals these days!
The negative ramifications and consequences don’t end there. They are not all silent. My body is scored with scars—remnants of ripped flesh, deep wounds, rash decisions and liquored-up logic. The physical toll of internal issues left dormant and untended to until they became impossible to ignore any longer—coaxed out through the songs of the Sirens— They serve, not as notches on a belt and worn with traditional pride, nor are they stored out of sight and hidden in shame. They are constant reminders of what I went through and what I endured…of what I survived. They cannot be erased. They cannot be minimized. Their existence cannot be denied and their truths cannot be diminished or down-played. The past isn’t pretty. But, I unabashedly maintain that my future is a dazzling array of hope and glory and fully ablaze with light and luster. This tissue, no matter how marred, pepto pink and grotesque, is painted with a silver lining. For I am one of the lucky ones. I made it—not entirely unscathed, no— but, one year later and I am back and better than ever. Hyperbolic? Hardly. My days are more good than bad… and there was a time that I never believed that I would be able to say that with a straight face…. guess I still can’t… because I cannot peel the smile from my face. My cravings are more few and far between. My optimism unrivaled. My dedication unwavering. My desire to continue to exceed everyone’s expectations, including my own, inextinguishable. Maybe I’m just having a particularly revelatory type of a day. Maybe. But, just for today… nothing can dampen my enthusiasm or tamper with the goals I have set for myself. I will be the best that I can be. And look forward to seeing how high I can fly or how far I can soar….. notepad, pencil and fedora in tow. So, there’s the scoop, ya see?
I dread this time of year. Sure, the weather warms, the sepia tones burst into candy coated Technicolor almost overnight, and the sun’s rays creep into your bones replenishing your depleted stores of Vitamin D. You feel good. You feel recharged. But, then the metaphorical bomb drops.
The blanched canvas tent popped-up with little fanfare earlier this week. Sometime in the dark of night this unassuming teepee erected itself in the middle of a wide open sea of black asphalt at our local supermarket. Its appearance, while predictable and perennial, always catches me slightly off-guard with its premature teasing that yet another holiday event is fast approaching. The flap of the entrance flutters in the morning breeze just long enough for this passersby to peek into the bowels of the big-top…its entrails fragrant and floral and adorned with lace, paisley and pastels. The thought bubble above my head illuminates with an incandescent heart shaped light bulb flashing the realization: Mother’s Day is nigh.
I flinch as I try and dodge the barrage of anxieties and the onslaught of panic that suddenly swarms and overwhelms me. As I stand there, slack-jawed, motionless, and momentarily paralyzed, I have an opportunity to recompose and digest the information that I had just unwittingly stumbled across. I have one week to prepare.
I suppose one might wonder why such an incredibly warranted and justified holiday could instantly inundate me with such acute dread and consternation. And I openly admit that little sense can be gleaned from harboring this fear of festivities–especially when the focal subject of all of this laud and celebration more than deserves a day dedicated to their sheer existence. My issues should not distract from the ardor and zeal I feel in regards to the second Sunday in May, but they do. However, the source of my uneasiness stems primarily from the sheer belief that no action on my part could ever be enough to accurately convey my love for my Mom.
I sit here and stare blankly at my smudged computer screen as I contemplate what to write and where to start. I am completely submerged in my thoughts as memories and moments begin to pour in and flood my consciousness with warmth. But, that’s all I’ve got. Once again, she provides me with contentment while I struggle to compose even a single line of an essay meant to commemorate her..
I distract myself by clicking on facebook. My social media feed bloats with posts and boasts of motherhood supremacy. Proclamations and declarations of their mom’s superiority are made unabashedly and with great pride and definitiveness. Their words drip with the requisite schmaltz and cloying sentimentality found printed on a dime store greeting card. No touch of deftness, no nuance, no subtlety… nothing but simplistic stock expressions of love and admiration for the women, who created, carried, cradled and cared for them throughout their life. And I am no different. We all seem to revert back to our most infantile state of mind when pressed to find a way to let our mother’s know how important they truly are to us.
My mind drifts to wanderland and I surmise that flowers seem futile. Their fragility not at all consistent with the toughness and tenacity I equate with my mom. And no bargain bouquet can ever recreate the time I was pulled around in a rickety red wagon at the local nursery– included in the annual gardening excursion for the first time. I performed my assigned tasks dutifully, carefully selecting the bloom most beckoning, picking up pots and planters, and finally plunging my tiny hands wrist deep into the damp Texas dirt… planting the seeds to a cherished memory.
Brunches and breakfasts-in-bed prove misguided, trite and too full of carbs and crumbs to provide any lasting substance. All attempts appreciated and enjoyed, but none comparing to the tens of thousands of meals she provided me throughout the years– never coming close to the times we quietly sipped hot chocolate together on those frigid December nights leading up to Christmas morning. Flannel pajamas, books brimming with stories of reindeer, elves, and holiday cheers, all tied up nicely with ribbons and bows and stored within my soul. The taste of Hershey’s cocoa mix and warm milk linger long after the copper bottomed pans and festive mugs are washed and put away. No plate I could ever present to you could rival that which you have lovingly prepared for me—grilled cheese sandwiches cut tenderly into tea-time triangles, spaghetti scraped of all traces of toxic red tomato sauce, grits stirred and seasoned to perfection—devoid of clumps, all served on dishes, in bowls and with silverware that evoke waves of nostalgia within me.
Soaps and scents in delicate bottles, with elegant names, and exorbitant price tags might impress with their promise of opulence and luxury. However, no amalgam of manufactured chemicals can replicate the smell of your Mom. No matter how much time passes I can always immediately conjure up the fragrance of her perfume. In the past it served as a beacon of hope in the midst of crowds, chaos and confusion– providing me with a trail of recognition–and leading me back into her warm embrace. And on one sobering occasion it offered me enough comfort to make it through a particularly bleak epoch of loneliness. I felt as though I had lost everything. I buried my head into a freshly laundered blanket on the bed inhaling the scent of home and remembered all of those fighting for me.
I’ve watched pre-dawn give way to a heavy mid-afternoon and now to early evening with nothing to point to and show my mom. How will she know I love her? What will she put up on the refrigerator? Once again my striving for perfection left me coming up empty handed. Perhaps a scribbled sketch of the two of us with a handwritten “I Love You” would have sufficed after all.
Now it’s getting ridiculous…. I just have to put something on paper. Here goes…
I’ve spent the better part of the day attempting to carve out some semblance of a letter to you that demonstrated the depths to which my love for you goes. However, after hours of time spent staring at the computer screen–I realized that it was never going to happen… that nothing I wrote would ever truly capture what I feel inside. I’ve stopped and started so many times that I lost count. Type. Space. Delete. Repeat. The print on the keys has practically worn off and I’m sure glad we’ve moved past the typewriter age. I have gone on walk after walk with the dog searching the trees for inspiration and finding nothing but squirrels and birds. I put headphones on. I took headphones off. I went outside. I went inside. I showered. I changed clothes. I stared at the computer some more. I used the laptop. I used a pen. I used Word. I used Notepad. But, nothing worked. This did not stem from a lack of content on which to cull from…quite the opposite… too much to say and no ability or skill with which to do it. So, I almost said nothing at all. However, I will sloppily provide you with this:
I cannot put into words the depths to which I love you. I tried and subsequently failed to accomplish this today. Our relationship has grown and developed this past year into one that continues to astound and bewilder. You are no longer just a mother, but my best friend, my therapist, my sidekick, my confidante, my driver, my banker, my interior designer, my everything. My reliance on you must tax and burden in ways that I cannot understand and it destroys me knowing that my life absolutely did not unfold as it should have. I apologize for this and will continue to do my best to make it up to you. How? I remain unsure other than to promise you that I will keep working on becoming my best self.
I hope that when you look at me you do not label yourself as a failure; that you accept that my shortcomings do not reflect any mistake made on your part. From my perspective you never faltered nor let me down in any way. No blame rests on your shoulders. I cannot stress enough the sincerity of my sentiments on that issue. I equally hope that you take notice of all of your hard work and how it has helped me grow stronger and more capable with each passing day. It may seem as though I am suspended in a pervasive state of stagnation…. marching in place without making any forward motion towards improvement. But, rest assured that I have and I am.
Perhaps without noticing it, you have pulled out the best parts of me and aided in unlocking areas of my personality that have laid dormant for many years–too far out of reach for me to have reached on my own. Sure, they need dusting off and fine-tuning, but you have instilled in me the confidence to test them out. By gently nudging me out of my safety zone and allowing me leeway and freedom to extricate myself from any concrete plans and ironclad obligations — you have allowed me to stretch my weak and atrophied wings. Though currently incapable of sending me soaring through every obstacle unscathed–they have made it possible to move closer to that goal. This has proven intrinsic to my recent successes. I grasp how insignificant and minor these accomplishments could appear to someone unfamiliar with my situation, but I promise that each one serves as a new learning and important learning experience.
My participation in these little adventures with you have given me something that I did not realize that I had the ability to possess any longer–and that is hope. You injected me a desire to wake up and move forward… one foot and then another…on days when the world seems far too intimidating and indomitable Through you I have become more optimistic that something worth pursuing exists beyond the walls of my apartment and that despite everything I still have a future to look forward to. I know that you understand the significance of these outings in relation to building up my confidence and equally grasp the immense internal struggles associated with my partaking in them. Throughout it all, you have shown nothing but kindness, patience and compassion towards me throughout the years and most specifically during the past couple of months. Rather than give up, you have pressed on, and that steely resolve you possess has somewhat rubbed off on me. I am learning how to enhance my character, outwardly present myself, and act in a responsible mature manner by emulating you. You are an exceptional role model to have and I am beyond fortunate to have you as a guide during this rough chapter of my life.
I am greedily pocketing each of our experiences and storing them away to serve as a source of strength when I fall to my weakest. I can flip through my card catalog of memories and pull any one of them out and instantly recall what I am fighting for. I covet every treasured moment from the mundane of running to the store, sitting on the balcony, going to appointments to the grander treks through the mountains and to the coasts…. all of equal importance in my process of developing and recovery.
I am a stronger person because of you. I am more complete. I am more open. I am more giving. This might seem impossible to recognize when I appear so internally weak and battered. But, I urge you to trust that I speak the truth. My increasing reliance on trust and hope have emerged and burgeoned because of your unwillingness to relent. It paid off. I now see a glimmer of light in every dark space I stumble into. I no longer immediately accept defeat as my only available option. And though the overwhelming outlook might still maintain its unmistakable blackness—I can now focus on the bright spot most of the time–enough to allow my trust in you to win the battle. I believe you when you say that going out will improve my mood and I am happy to attest to the success of this method.
I also hope that you know that each and every gesture of kindness and extension of support, both tacit and vocalized, did not fall upon deaf ears or blind eyes. I noticed. I always notice. I have never felt entirely deserving of the level of devotion you have maintained and exhibited towards me. But, those actions forced me accept that you cared and loved me even when I wanted so badly to believe no one did or could. You truly have earned your superhero’s cape, Mom.
I have many regrets and a long (very long) list of things to apologize for. But, today I just want to iterate that nobody can compare to you. I meant to say this yesterday, but your own mother would be so proud of you and what a positive influence and guiding force you provide in my life. I do not know whom to thank for granting me the past twenty-nine years of having you as my greatest ally. But, I must have done something right in a past life to earn the right to call you my mom. Thank you for all that you have done for me. And thank you for all you will inevitably continue to do in the future. You have given me everything and I love you to the moon and back.
The past two Friday nights were spent in the audience watching Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, and Elton John at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Upon reflection, I am beginning to realize that I should probably make a concerted [ha!] effort to go to more shows at this impressive amphitheater. I have thoroughly enjoyed these recent outings. It’s been a rather alarming and surprising switch in my cranium’s circuitry.
I am not an easy person to cajole into stepping out of my safety zone. I’m relatively comfortable and content within the confines of my miserable little hobo-hive. Miserable? Yes. But, misery is company. And quite simply, I prefer my baggy t-shirt, no make-up, tousled hair look to being forced to face the realities that the mirror and ill-fitting clinging clothing offer me. Getting ready to present myself to the world beyond my chipped rust-colored front door is a challenge that I am usually beyond unprepared to partake in. So, when an invitation to an event I might potentially enjoy attending presents itself to me… the color immediately drains from my face and my stomach sinks to the deepest of depths. I, of course, accept graciously. I am always grateful for every opportunity that I am given. However, I am unable to follow through on my wants and desires with far too great a frequency. I have lost almost everyone in my life because of this flaw. The difference here is that I AM typically good at sticking to commitments that have financial penalties if I opt out of them at the last minute. There is a monetary investment here. It’s my obligation. It is my duty. I have to conquer these experiences bestowed upon me as if they are painful instead of potentially pleasurable.
So, I go. I fret. I pace. I worry. I stress. I panic. I leave a trail of destruction in the hallways from clothes thrown on and viciously ripped off…distributed about like Hansel and Gretel’s crumbs. They mark the tragic path that my brain is making from safety straight into the belly of the beast…that gaping darkness of the unknown. I create a ruckus by rummaging through the cabinets and drawers– clamoring… looking for something but not having a clue of what that something might be. I paw around clumsily within our cache of cosmetologist tools attempting to will my hair into some semblance of a style–hoping that the crease from the eternally suffocating ponytail isn’t too blatant. I’m sure it was. I’m positive it was bulging out from the silky straight strands flowing around it–gasping for air and begging to be cut free. I’m not a long hair type of gal. One more thing to worry about.
I go through all six stages of grief in a cyclical rapid fire succession. I’m like clockwork in this way. I am crumbling. I get desperate. My girlfriend is sprawled out on the couch in such a fashion that one can only assume that her batteries corroded and her movement ceased mid-sentence She is stuck in a state of fever dreams and in the early stages of what will be a rough evening for her. I’m among company but utterly alone. I shift my gaze in her direction…nudging the air gently with my nose.. hoping to revive her from her booze soaked slumber. She’s been running on fumes for a few weeks now. Starved of nutrients both real and emotional…life has drained her. I am not innocent, but not the sole[soul?] perpetrator. Life’s not easy with me. She’s a mere shell of her normal self. We all have our demons. We cannot always predict when they emerge. We cannot always prevent them from striking unexpectedly. We cannot always protect ourselves or those around us from their ills. I look at her with both frustration and devastation. Guilt? I want to shake her into submission, leash her up, parade her around with me. I want her to open her eyes, see that I am struggling and swoop in and save the day…save me. I want too much from her. She is crumpled there and her labored breathing and soft whimpers provide me with evidence dictating that she can no longer help me. Today, her demons won. Some day they won’t. Not today. This was a battle I would not win. I find my mouth suddenly parched, constricted and swollen. It pained me to swallow. The lump that unknowingly developed in my throat prevents from air from entering into my searing lungs. I am forced to make my first of many difficult decisions–collapse and cry or rip the metaphorical serpentine crushing my pipes from my clenched neck and brave it alone.
Flashes and fragments from the previous years whir in front of my deadened unflinching eyes. Memories are jumbled, broken into pieces, blurred into a garbled mess of highs and lows and ups and down. So much marred by intoxication… so much pain I personally caused and so much I wish I could take back and things I wish I could forget. I have no time to lament. I have no time to mourn. Not tonight. Not this night.
I choose to march forward. Through clenched teeth and silent protests… I go. The depths to which I must reach inside my reserve units of bravery and courage are immeasurable. I come up empty handed time and time again. But, I am relentless in my pursuit– determined to scrape off just enough residual confidence to drag myself to the car awaiting me down those very long lonely four flights of stairs. Just getting to the car is an epic journey for my mind to commit to… I can feel my body wanting to turn around and run back up to my sanctuary. During those moments all I can concentrate on is the jiggle of my thighs, the blemishes on my face, the flyaways on my head, the smudged makeup on my eyes, the lack of words to fill the inevitable silence to come. This way of thinking is so nonsensical even to myself. There is no reason nor logic behind it. But, it is so real to me in those moments. It is inescapable and unrelenting…so unforgiving. Karma? The price and prize of sobriety is clarity. I am suffering with each trepidatious step. Imagined gusts of wind chill me right to the bone even in this near-ninety degree heat. The logical area of my brain is reaching frantically for some sort of weapon to deflect the dragon’s breath–the flames singeing my very last few drops of available resolve.
I can do this.
Close my eyes and count to ten.
One step. Two step. Red fish. Blue fish.
Lord, grant me just this one wish.
Then I’m in the car. I’m no longer free to make the choices or call the shots. Plans are set in motion. Inertia pulls us forward as we head in a steady line towards our destination. My outsides calm and poised. Inside I am spinning quickly and disastrously out of control in orbit. Me and the Russian spacecraft are on a collision course. It’s ultimate untimely demise locale is still unknown… mine is an absolute certainty: 30.1614° N, 95.4639° W. I will land smack down amidst a throng of sweaty strangers and soon.
Palpitations. Pumping. Thumping. Is that my heart beating out of control or is it the vibrations from the theater beginning to breathe life back into my lungs? Both. I just don’t know it yet.
And then there I am… stepping out of the safety of the car’s womb and into that familiar sticky humid Texas heat. It catches me off guard as it coats me with its unfamiliar newness. I am immediately enveloped and immersed into this whole new world full of commotion and chaos. And like magic I somehow forget all of my worries and begin to feel free of my burdens and restraints. All of the weight is being shed with such rapidity that I begin to float up the stairs and to the lawn above. I am just living in the moment–for the moment–and only this moment. I embrace it. I wedge myself right into the thick of it. It’s almost dizzying to take deep breaths of the air outside…polluted with smoke, spiked with beer, and dripping with the sugary sweet soda and butter drenched popcorn. I’m inhaling the excitement of my fellow patrons…feeding on their adrenaline, soaking up their stories from the day. I am stealing their vigor. I am a parasite getting my fill of life and experience from these unsuspecting victims. It is not until later that I realize that they are willing to share. They give as much as they take. I feel alive. I feel like I am a part of something. I am a part of something–something special.
I simply adore this world. It’s so different from the cocoon that I’ve created only a few miles northward. There are no walls. There are no corners to hide in. There is no artificial light telling me what time of day it is. I see the moon overhead–it’s almost full. I see a few stars peppering the hazy sky. I can feel the light gusts of wind brush intermittently against my cheek–proving a stark contrast to the methodical circulation provided by my ceiling fan’s propeller. I am not lulled into a trance from mechanical repetition. No. Not even close. It’s all improvisational. It’s a jazz tune. It swings and it rings. It is perfect in its imperfection. It’s unpredictable. It’s fresh. It’s catching me completely off guard and pulling me in. It’s injecting me with a renewed sense of energy, thirst and fervor. Everything is bright, vibrant and colorful. I can actually see despite my otherwise limited vision. It overwhelms my senses–each enhanced beyond what limitations I previously thought possible. My heart and soul are inflated to right near their bursting point [insert obligatory deflategate joke here].
The ambiance, the smells, the sights, the sounds, and all of those sixteen-thousand other people coming together for a singular shared passion. We are all there for no other reason but to seek out and capture a tiny sliver of happiness. No one has ulterior motives. No scorn or malice present on the faces of the beings surrounding us. No one is there to sulk or languish away in their sorrows. It’s an escape from the harshness of outside realities to a place of revelry and revery. You can get out of this experience whatever you wish. And I did.
The enormity of it bewilders and momentarily knocks me off my game. I’m off-kilter and unbalanced. I steady myself by grasping the arm of a stranger. I do not know his name. I will go on to ask him for the time later on in the evening… unsubstantial to most… but an unbelievable victory for me. The blood is rushing vigorously through my veins. I close my eyes and attempt to absorb the reality of everything transpiring around me. I am here and living for the now I lose all control of my body and can tell that my face is contorting without my telling it to do so. The cheeks pulled taught, lips turned upright, teeth shining brightly and reflecting the colored lights from the stage in front of us. I’m smiling. The mask is removed and my smile is real. The laughter is incessant. The memories being carved are incapable of being scrubbed out or remembered only in fragments. This one is here to stay. They all are now. Each day there is something new to add to my blank sober slate. Each day an opportunity to improve and grow. I am cultivating my future without a compass and without any idea of what is to come. It’s thrilling and utterly terrifying.
This night could of been a disaster. It could of been another instance where I wearily waved the white flag of surrender. I could of given in and given up. But, I didn’t. I am proving to be made of a stronger material than I previously thought. I may have slightly underestimated myself and my intestinal fortitude. There is no doubt that I have much left to conquer and more areas to improve than I care to delve into or address even to myself right now. I am not only a work in progress, but one in distress and duress. I take steps forward only to regress and fall three or fifty back. I stumble. I sink. I flail. I falter. I am barely making it through each day. But, I am slowly accumulating mental check points to reflect back on and use for internal fuel when times are harder and the waters rougher.
Yesterday, I was a daughter with a mother sitting on the balcony porch staring at the trees and discussing mundane matters of the day. I was an aunt to a niece who is growing up too fast– our paths crossing too infrequently– finding pure and utter joy in the wonderment appearing on her face when I blew a bubble with my chewing gum. I was a daughter to a father who stepped in at the last minute to be my companion at a concert that I so desperately needed to attend. I was a girlfriend to a woman who I put through so much and who asks so very little for in return. I failed her early in the day only to come home renewed and revived able to fall asleep entwined in her arms. I was one of sixteen-thousand… living through a shared experience… but coming away with something so utterly special and personalized.
Two concerts in nine months have changed and transformed my life in ways that I could of never seen coming nor ever anticipated. One marking my first day of sobriety after hitting the proverbial rock bottom I so wanted to avoid but so desperately needed… and one granting me confirmation that I am getting better. that I have a chance… that it’s not too late for me to be something….to be somebody… to be happy…. to not give up. The days seem long and often bleed together. I cannot see the changes within myself. But, they are there. Who knew?
Lady Gaga and Sir Elton might be my guardian angels. But, none more so than those people surrounding me and giving me something to fight for and fight alongside.
In the end, it is a pretty pricey investment for a couple of hours of entertainment based therapy… but I definitely could get used to placing myself in the middle of that crackling crowd, those sizzling sounds and those frenetic fans cavorting around and about! Enjoying and seizing the day. Worth every dime.
These were taken last December. My niece will be 5 years old on December 23rd. It’s a blessing beyond any words I am capable of pecking out on a social media status update that we are able to have this little moppet with us for another year. Life can be so feeble and so delicate, as we have seen in the media in recent days, weeks, months. You must always be thankful for each second you have with your loved ones. As always, my family’s health and happiness is the most precious of presents that I can ask for each and every year.
However, there is something a touch sad about rushing through the holidays the way we, as a society, have become conditioned to. Perhaps, I was a little too affected by the “never grow up” mindset of the titular Peter Pan and the Lost Boys depicted on-screen in yesterday evening’s live televised event of the J.M. Barrie classic. Or maybe it’s the incantations of the Toys R Us commercials of yesteryear reverberating within the caverns of my cranium–“I don’t want to grow up. I’m a Toys R Us kid.” Or perhaps it’s a slight tinge of Grinch green envy of being too old, too wise and too jaded to indulge in certain aspects of this particular season. Maybe an amalgam of all the aforementioned.
Regardless of the reasons, the fact remains that we are now screaming down the tracks of the Polar Express with a one way ticket to the realization that the North Pole is a destination that will never be reached. In about two years– this concept of a singular entity being responsible for delivering gifts to all of the world’s “good” kids will be shattered by a child’s intuition, logic and reasoning developmental skills sharpening, blabbermouth peers, the Internet or by just wanting to grow up a smidgen faster than we would like.
All of it is just a part of the process of aging. It’s an inevitability. But, I believe that being able to so harmlessly pull the red satin hat over their eyes and deafen and quell their innate suspicions with jingle bells and elves on shelves is one of the greatest joys we are bestowed with during a child’s youth. It’s a little gift that we are given to inject just that much more personal excitement (on both ends) into an already thrilling time of the year.
I understand that not everyone chooses to indulge in this way. I know that not everyone is comfortable with the entire concept of Saint Nicholas. I am equally aware that many do not even celebrate Christmas for a myriad of reasons. And that is OK! This wasn’t composed to incite scrutiny or to stir up latent hostilities or ruffle and rile your inner Scrooge. Yule have to kindly exit stage right and let me revel in the yore and yarns of the season.
However, I write this with a bittersweet mindset of wanting her to continue to develop and grow in such a brilliant fashion, while still yearning for a few more blissfully oblivious years of buying into a truly magical concept rather than buying into, well, the buying and selling capitalistic culture that is so omnipresent. She doesn’t need to know that yet! Thankfully, this year, barring any tragic occurrence, she won’t. But, soon… it will come crashing down as deflation, destruction, devastation and the defeat of innocuous idealistic idolism occurs with one fell swoop. And with that revelation…we, as a family, selfishly lose a bit of the infectious enthusiasm that comes hand in hand with having a kiddo in the family running afoot.–
That ear-muffed, rose colored glasses wearing, wide-eyed tiny human serves as our beacon of hope–a flesh and blood incarnation of innocence, and wielder of endless cheer amidst a backdrop of cynicism, injustice and despair.
When you have a four-almost-five year old whispering her singular want for the year (a Paw Patrol toy that she is getting!) to the 34th street Santa in Manhattan…. in your life… you can’t help but be momentarily engulfed and swept up in the splendor of the holiday.. Even the coldest and darkest of hearts can be thawed by igniting a spark of that inner spirit and sparkle that burned with such passion when you were of a similar age. You smile and you melt into a puddle of peppermint syrup and saccharine sentimentality. You are blinded by the twinkling lights, intoxicated by the cocoa and candy, you hum carols in your head and you remember that despite all of the negatives saturating your daily lives– there is the beauty of an untarnished canvas right there in front of you. They are formulating their memories that they will cherish and hold dear for the rest of their lives and hopefully pass on to their children in the future.
These rosy cheeked cherubs (or imps, depending on the time you ask) are the torch carriers that will determine the course of their generation. What a wonderful thing to be able to aid in such an immeasurably important task! You are shaping and sharing this period of their development with them! You are their role models and the holidays serve as another opportunity to teach them a solid set of morals and other important lessons: the gift of giving, the art of being polite, the act of sharing, the oft overlooked trait of tact and the importance of patience, the notion that all actions have consequences–both positive and negative, and that sometimes realities will fall very short of expectations.
Unless your holiday fare is filled with marathons of “Wall Street” leaving children with visions of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” dancing in their heads… your little one will be picking up on early cues of what the season is really all about. It’s an incredibly stressful time for everyone. And if you pay attention to the news– it’s a tragic and scary time for all–some more so than others. And I do not want to take away from that. Shielding children from facts, of course, not my intention here. They should be abreast of the happenings in the world and aware that life is not always fair
But, remember that there is always a ticking clock on the magic of this particular holiday that will melt away with the snow one year soon– and will never be able to be recaptured in its entirety. While it is 100 percent true that the lights will never lose their luster, the freshly cut firs will be ever fragrant, and gifts will always be a true menace to wrap in time (no matter how far in advance they are purchased!)– the traditions and enjoyment will be eternal BUT, this one part of just believing in the unbelievable…. will be boxed up as nothing but a memory….stored away in the attic forever Enjoy it. Treasure it.
I realize that every family is different. That’s part of what makes the holiday season SO special: the traditions. We all have them. And perhaps I care so much because they are so intrinsic to our Smith clan’s celebration of Christmas. Maybe it is because my grandpa was THE Santa Claus at the store we visited growing up. Maybe it was because I was up on the roof of my grandparent’s house stapling lights into shingles with my dad and cousin, untangling strings of half burnt out bulbs, and living in what I believed to be a literal winter wonderland since I was very young. Maybe it is that I fell asleep each night of the season dressed snugly in themed flannels, my mind filled to the brim with illustrations and imagery from holiday classics, my window saturated with the soft glow of twinkles from the proud adornments and decor dancing in the yard outside, and my belly always full of goodies, treats and cocoa lovingly presented to me by my parents. Maybe it’s because they encouraged creativity and instilled imagination in my sister and I from day one and went above and beyond to make sure that Christmas was spectacularly special for the two of us. It was not something to shrug off or sneer at, but to relish and to revel in the reveries. We were egged on to drink the proverbial punch (or non-alcoholic eggnog!) and suspend disbelief, if only for a few measly magnificently marvelous and magical weeks. Maybe it is because everyone in our family still harbors an unapologetic and unabashed ardor and zest for that Christmas cheer deep within the confines of their own hearts. Maybe it is because even now when I close my eyes and reminisce of family get-togethers from past Decembers, an overwhelming and undeniable sense of warm contentment blankets and consumes me–acting as both an insulator of happiness and as a shield from the harsh bitterness of the outside world’s realities. I might, in fact, be a direct descendant of the Claus crew. Anything is possible.
For Caitlin Noel…. right now…anything is truly possible.
She will learn, sooner rather than later, that life is full of disappointment, sadness, heartache and betrayal. But, right now… reindeer fly and on Christmas morning…. the tree will be lit, the cookies and milk will be consumed with a handwritten note of appreciation left from the big man himself, glossily wrapped presents will be strewn across the floor and a flurry of Kodak moments will inevitably ensue. Hugs, tears, laughter and smiles will etch themselves into your internal scrapbook. Let them. Live vicariously through that indescribable youthful fervor for fun and festivities. Try to catch their charmingly effervescent contagion. For there is truly nothing purer than the joyful spirit that these youngsters have gleaming organically within them.
Whip out the advent calendar and embrace the sheer enjoyment of every day during this all too short of seasons. Mark down the moments of merriment and try to formulate the most positive memories you possibly can. Yes it’s stressful. Yes, it is draining. Yes, it is exhausting. But, every second of duress and distress will become an afterthought when you witness the whimsical wonderment appear on your loved one’s face. Nothing is better or more worth it than being an active participant in injecting cheer into a child’s soul.
Remember to reminisce and recall the most famous reindeer of all. Let loose and let go. Say yes more than no. Replace the iphones and ipads with ice rinks and icicles. Embrace the red and the green– the tinsel and holly. Be happy. Be merry. Be overly jolly. But, let’s make one thing clear, don’t you go and be naughty! This day only comes but once every year, so replace all the chaos with nothing but cheer. Teach that it’s not what comes in the sled, but more the things that you’ve done and you’ve said . Share your traditions with the young and indulge in their fun. The best part of the season is not wrapped up in a bow. It’s not the wanting or getting nor sledding in snow. It is the glint, gleam and glimmer and sparkle in their eyes. The giving, the sharing, those are the highs. So sit back and enjoy. But, don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Savor the beauty and soak up all the Christmas.
This is the time of year that I start to get an itch for my old life as a retail drone at Best Buy and Hastings Entertainment. It’s the busiest period, the most bustling and chaotic, the most dreaded by everyone but the higher-ups in this consumer based field. The ringing of the Salvation Army’s charitable bells are the shrieking of banshees to the employee and the mythological Sirens to the shoppers. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. Cha-cha-cha-ching. The repetition of carols and holiday classics quickly morph into this maddeningly melodious nightmare–losing their chipper quality and instead taking on an eerie, slow motion horror film quality….crackling and echoing inside your mind and ping-ponging against the cavernous four walls around you. They haunt and fa-la-la-la- follow you everywhere. Sweaty, stressed and surly shoppers come and roam the aisles in droves with lists, demands and desires aplenty. These zombie-like hoards are relentless…. blinded by the baubles and twinkling lights and lulled into submission by the subliminal advertising, they grunt and groan their way through the aisles with no regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Physical decay is replaced by moral and social. Filthy beasts! Lines are long, tempers are short, products sell out, ads are misprinted, feet are aching, babies are crying, etc. This is most employee’s idea of what Hell might look like. To me, however… this was my happy place. I loved it. And I miss it. I miss being a part of the process of making people’s lives a little brighter. I flourished amidst the freakshow. Schmaltzy and scarily honest.
I worked retail for about 6 years. I never felt ashamed of my job title. I never thought that I was lesser of an individual because I was not making much money. Sure, I was surpassed by my peers and not even coming close to fulfilling my potential. It’s painfully evident that I never truly even physically attempted to stretch my wings wide enough to accomplish any real goals that should and could be attainable by me…. Mentally is another story entirely… But, I was paralyzed by fear of being mediocre and thus I searched out something easy and low on the stress totem pole. Interestingly enough, I soon learned that this undesirable little shift job was one that I was enjoying and surprisingly adept at. It bolstered my confidence, provided a service to the general population, and it suited my debilitating social anxieties and phobias. It was a good fit. It still would be.
My only problem with retail, besides the negative stigma attached to it, is that no one else ever seemed to care about being the best they could be at the position that they held as much as I did. It was exasperating, confusing and perplexing on many levels. I prefer to surround myself with others who mirror my enthusiasm and desire for excelling at any given task…no matter how trivial it seemed or probably was. To me,each time I was challenged to solve a customer’s dilemma, locate a product, utilize my encyclopedic knowledge of film trivia, recommend or suggest their entertainment selection for the evening, answer any questions, or just offer up light conversation with a smile– I would take those seemingly mundane assignments as seriously as I would anything else in my life and any misstep would linger and haunt me for days (and sometimes even years!). As they say at NASA, “Failure is not an option.” No problem could be too big or too small and nor should it be.
I’ve always believed that I would thrive at a local independent establishment– one where you are rewarded with incentives, hours and raises rather than threatened with cuts, department switches or even termination. The idea of forming relationships and true bonds with returning regular customers and almost familial ties with coworkers appeals to me…to be a part of something that lived and thrived because of your individual contributions and determination fills me with intrigue and want. I crave that community.I love the thrill of a good add-on or upsell… but only without my being forced at hypothetical gunpoint into doing so by corporate bigwigs and their impossibly out of touch policies and numerical goals. One of the worst aspects of being an underling at a big-box store was essentially working as though you were receiving commission, when really you were just fighting for job security. I always felt that I caved to their mandate of pressuring customers into buying product and pushing promotions that lacked sincerity or customization because…well… I was. But, on a personal level I gained nothing. I did not enjoy being a corporate puppet or talking mouthpiece for faceless boardroom suits and ties.
I understand how capitalism works. I understand why rules, regulations, guidelines, etc are in place and play at these establishments. I don’t have a problem with any of it in theory. And truly all of this could of been rectified by the occasional pat on the back. There is nothing that makes me work harder than affirmation that my attention to detail and devotion to my craft is noticed and appreciated by others…and nothing that cripples and demoralizes me more than harsh words,unnecessary discipline or worse…. a complete and utter lack of any acknowledgment whatsoever! The degree to which other people’s opinions and words matter to me is incredibly unhealthy, but a fantastic motivator!
I also enjoyed taking pride in the physical area of my department and fastidiously maintained it to meet my most stringent of standards. Everything had its place, everything was alphabetized and orderly as to make it easy for the customer or employee to find the appropriate product and to promote an air and aesthetic of professionalism. This was not as important to a big corporation than the bottom line was, which made for many days that I would come in off-the-clock as a “customer” and furtively arrange and tidy things to my liking. I could spot a misplaced item a mile away and it would send me into fits of panic and unease upon its detection. I inherited this from my mother. She who would sweep the pine needles from the dirt floor at a campsite in the woods. The appearance of the environment around us is representative of ourselves. I also firmly believe that if your surroundings are clean, streamlined and efficient then you will feel better and perform at a higher level as a result. I keep my little hovel of an apartment orderly for the same reason–despite us never having any visitors!
But, I digress… the fact of the matter is that I am a little bummed that I don’t possess the keen vision that I did four years ago. Reading signs is near impossible, staring at a computer screen is a challenge, flying through tasks at record time is no longer a practical possibility…. I’d be a great asset and addition to anyone’s team, but not an all-around MVP anymore. I find that unacceptable. Without the leniency and forgiveness that I could find in an independent setting– I am out of luck finding a suitable business to share my wealth of retail awesomeness with. I was beyond thrilled and even more envious of the Northeast on my most recent trip to Massachusetts. There were a myriad of reasons for this, but one was the abundance of locally owned and operated stores and shops–streets of them! It gave me hope for my future. But, in the meantime I save my smile, small talk, and never ending endurance and willingness to go above and beyond for my friends and family…and mainly my dog. I still get my kicks by picking up fallen items in the grocery store, folding clothes that are crumpled and tossed aside at the mall and laser lining the hell out of stocked shelves. I might even awkwardly continue utilizing my ingrained mantra of helping anyone within ten feet of me. Sigh. Perhaps in time my confidence will catch up with my mental drive… or I’ll wake up in Beantown with an accent and new life. Until then, I will be the lunatic who yearns to be the communal whipping boy in a sea of real cynicism and mock enthusiasm during this crazy shopping season.. I’ll continue being jealous of my girlfriend who wears a vest and name-tag, wants to strangle Charlie Brown, Snoopy and The Vince Guaraldi Trio and comes home doused in glitter, tinsel and disdain for humanity. Ah, what a wonderful world!
I will still enjoy this holiday season. I will enjoy it more than years past. I will not be participating on the commercial side, but I will throw myself into the mix of that of the consumer. Perhaps monies won’t be exchanged for goods because of the whole lack of funds thing. However, the material will be replaced with the consumption of ambiance, energy and second-hand frenzied hysteria. The jubilance and cheer will enchant and mystify me enough to detract from my deepest insecurities and personal failings. My visual acuity may be dismal in regards to details and minutiae, but it excels at absorbing the warm embrace of color and light. I do not have to strain my sight to become instantly engulfed in a kaleidoscope of candy-coated razzle dazzle, sparkles and shimmers, twinkles and glimmers, an explosion of pure wonderment. It truly is a feast for the eyes and a dizzying array of decor and delight await me in the coming months. This year I’m truly happy to be a part of the festivities that come hand in hand with autumn and winter. Unlike the past six years, I won’t be singing the blues but rather rockin’ around the Christmas tree. I won’t be in a holidaze for the holidays and will instead be soberly (but not somberly) soaking up every precious moment of the season. I am prime for people watching. So, bring it, Santa! Let’s do this!
So, it’s been about a year exactly since I woke up behind a veil of haze and fog–to what I thought was nothing more than a temporary side effect of a night of fitful sleep. I cracked open my crusty lids to a blurriness that I believed would dissipate shortly after getting up and at ’em. However, minutes turned into hours, then days, then weeks then months…. and after many ophthalmologists and specialists poked, prodded and peered into the frightened distressed blue marbles resting upon my broken visage…. it was deduced that this was my “new normal.” I had already accepted the inevitable by this point and instead of being visibly crushed I was silently and graciously accepting that I could now close this taxing chapter of uncertainty and focus on that which now laid ahead (I have to choose my paths, directions and such more carefully and with more trepidation these days! :P).
I am still not comfortable with this new ocular outlook.. I’ve adapted and adjusted to this astronomical shift in my life in the best way I know how….not well. But, I manage. To go from 20/20 with glasses to being incapable of driving a car or reading a book after twenty-something years is…. not something you can segue into easily. I am the partner of an artist of whose work I cannot fully appreciate. The daughter of a photographer of whose pictures can no longer be seen in the detail they deserve. The daughter of an avid and voracious reader whose enjoyment and appreciation of books can no longer be shared with. The sister of someone who writes a blog for a living that can now only be skimmed because of how frustrated I get with being unable to focus on the screen. I worry about what will happen when my parents are no longer able to drive me to and fro. I have to strain my eyes at all times just to make sure I don’t trip, misstep, or fall. I have to rely on others to tell me what items are on menus or ask them what signs say or what they are talking/laughing about. I have to memorize what people are wearing when I am in a crowded area so that I have at least a slim chance of finding them again when separated. I have mistaken others for my parents, sister and Meg on more than one occasion. I have to watch foreign films while sitting on my computer an inch from the screen to read the subtitles and I still don’t always catch the entirety of the written dialogue. If I see a gnat or a spot on my glasses– I panic thinking that maybe the impairment is growing more severe or morphing in some way. And I go to bed each night worrying that in the morning there will be no sunshine–and all that will envelop me is total darkness. It’s a fear that I am not quite sure is completely unsubstantiated.
Yes, it’s scary and more than a little deflating to have each minimal task multiplied by a million in terms of complexity, but you know what? It could always be so much worse. I can still see. I can see colors, shapes, the freckles on Meg’s face when I’m up close, the flowers peppering the ground, the blooms on the trees, the major details on buildings and landmarks, the sun in the sky, the smiles on faces and virtually everything wonderful about this world. I just don’t see it the same way I did… or that you do.
Life has it’s way of throwing curve-balls at you and keeping you on your toes. I’m pretty good at baseball, but I would be most appreciative if the powers that be could lob the pitches from now on– a little harder to catch and prepare these days! And looking on the bright side (which is always a good idea now) is intrinsic to my plowing through each day with vigor and fervor. I’ve become more social and mirthful since I started having to stare through the equivalent of a waterfall or frosted glass all day. My dependence on others has forced me into this position and I have had to learn to accept that my independence in this particular area is no longer an option. I find humor in the mundane and joke to make it seem or feel less awkward and frustrating. And as mawkish and ridiculous as it may seem… I appreciate everyone and everything just a little bit more. The sight that I have, the cacophony of sound around me, the breeze on my cheek, the pounding of each step, the touch of a hand, and the kindness of others. There are worse things. However, I am still waiting on my new super power that takes the place of sight.
So, yes, I may now read like a four year old stumbling and stopping over each individual letter. I might appear as though I am using a foreign language dictionary in a strange land to translate words into sentences that make some semblance of sense. I might quadruple check both ways before I cross the street as though I am playing the classic “Frogger” arcade game. And I might have premature wrinkles from squinting with such prolonged intensity. But, that’s all ok. I’m somehow happier. From this myopia and dystopia came a cornucopia of happiness, empathy and unbridled enthusiasm that had been held captive and laid dormant for so long. Stranger than fiction.
I went into a period of cessation from documenting my life for multiple reasons. One main purpose was to stop feeling as though I was complaining too much. I never sought out that type of confessional . I always wanted this to be a diary of thoughts and realizations that I encountered each day. The reason it became so intense was because I entered a realm of disorder that needed to be attended to in a professional manner.
I have no shame in that. Yes, I have sliced my skin to shreds, I have wounds that will never heal, I have hurt everyone around me, I wanted to die, I went to a psychiatric ward, and I am still a pawn in the ultimate chess game of life and loss.
There is a silver lining here. I am twenty-eight and am now finding happiness in my day to day existence. It took about as long as I would of anticipated. I did not start my period until sixteen and did not lose my virginity until twenty-two. I’m just always going to be late to the party. I’m ok with that. I’m very logical, level-headed, and literal. I will never alter the way I view the outside world. I have no inkling nor any innate desire to do so. Practicality courses through my veins.
All I concentrate on at this juncture in my life is making everyone around me’s life easier. This is what I know I can do without any extra effort. I am a generally nice person. I will always be as kind as I can when granted the opportunity.
Each day is another chance to prove that there are great people in this world. And I hope to make someone smile and feel a little happier every morning! I may not be religious, but I am always hoping to be a saving grace.