Are You Okay?

It’s the pricks you aren’t expecting that slide in the deepest and hurt the most. If only we could get a 1-2-3 and a chance to close our eyes before the shock.

What is it about the tangential kindness of a friend, or in tonight’s case, a stranger daring to ask,

“Are you okay?”

that results in an absolute torrent of tears?

It’s a fucked up concept. Left alone to our thoughts we can compose and keep the dangling, rabid parts from flinging off and clinging to the nearest sticking place. But the moment a human wants to interact, sharing the core connection of that humanness, the spackle crumbles off the form and the holes beneath are exposed.

But then, I wonder about the humanity of someone who asks those questions. I’m afraid people are not that compassionate and selfless. I look inside and I know I’m not. And then I wonder about the tarnish on my own soul because I ask, am I that jaded that I assume most people are usually not okay, so asking that seems redundant and sardonic?

That’s probably not true either.

I probably do think people are okay most of the time. I see them calm in public. Or laughing at a funny, unexpected turn instead of breaking down. I covet that like there’s a tip waiting for me at the end of the night if I do it well. I wonder, how do they do it? How are they okay? What’s the fucking secret?

There is no secret.

It’s not as entry-level as sharp end/blunt end. The people I stand beside on the sidewalk when I step away in a panic, are not complete messes or totally together.

Many of us are not okay and hanging on by a thread and hearing, “Are you okay?”, is the bolt undone that unleashes the mudslide of messy, dirty feelings.

No one like to be caught covered in messy, dirty feelings. They make you cold and wet and then the car is a wreck after the drive home.

What the fix? The plastic poncho and umbrella that keep us from getting splattered? Is it honesty? As simple as, “No, I’m not okay?”, and then sharing and sitting with that icky closeness. Or should we pretend it all way?

I don’t know.

Yes, lovely girl with the fantastic hair. I was not okay last night. Yes, you are compassionate beyond what my brain can wrap around for asking. I diverted and reverted and maneuvered away from me. In a surprising turn, having to convince you I was okay, when I wasn’t, actually nudged me into the direction of okay.

No one could have been more surprised.

I’m not great with surprises.

Now, I still had to keep my routine. Practicing gratefulness. Remembering non-comparison. Trying to self-affirm. All about as useful as they ever are.

But it gave me something else to think about for a while.

And that was okay.

Drops

Traveling with family is soggy business.

It can refresh like spring shower. Urge forth blossoms and such.

More likely, it saturates.

The days drench you, and by nightfall, you’re ready to be wrung our because the weight of their water is so pervasive.

That’s horrible.

Yes.

I know.

I’m lucky.

I’m…

It’s ungrateful and selfish.

But it’s as real as the rain that keeps all of you in the room.

Because the stress of urban navigation and a morning of nostalgia and stairs wasn’t bonding enough.

Backwards, down into it,

With the teen who isn’t

And the grandmother who won’t.

In front but not in charge

SO GET OFF MY BACK!

Sorry.

I’m sorry.

Just…

I’ll figure it out.

Okay.

Wrong.

Let me try again.

Why won’t it stop raining?

It’s Always Something

Like many women of my rapidly advancing age, I loved Gilda Radner. I watched old SNL skits on VHS, while eating popcorn with my dad. He and Gilda helped me learn what funny was. 

When I later became a reader, I devoured her memoir “It’s Always Something”, probably still while eating popcorn. The book was funny and heartbreaking. A passage always stuck with me. 

When Gilda was advancing down the floor, dancing with cancer, she told of lying in bed at night with Gene Wilder. She relayed her memory of once again crying, being scared and needing someone to hold her and make it all okay. 

She revealed, to my teenage disgust, that on one dark and lonely night, Gene could no longer do those things. He too was tired. He was scared. He needed someone to rub his own cheek with words of solace, and make it all okay. 

How dare he! I spat and eye rolled and huffed as only a disappointed privileged teen can. How could he ever consider not being there to the very last curl of his hair for Gilda Radner!

I didn’t get it. 

Now I do. 

I watched my own dad die of cancer. I watched my mother care for him as he slowly did. My father needed the physical care. The mental care. 

But so did my mother. 

It’s not easy to be the caregiver or the partner. I know that. Sometimes, it really is easier to be the patient. As hard and callous as that sounds. 

I watched her do it before for him. Before cancer. She laid with him through anxiety and mental illness. I know there were nights that she didn’t have any more to give. When she was bone-tired from her feet to the end of pin-straight hair. When she needed someone to tell her it would be okay. 

There was no one. 

Last night, I lay there like my dad. 

I was the one hurting. 

Again. 

And I was the one who asked to be held and comforted and coddled. 

Again. 

And I never thought for a moment to consider if the one I was asking might not need some care, too. 

They did. 

I forget. I avoid. I neglect. Not on purpose. Not at all. But because while anxiety and depression hurts. And hurts. And then hurts even more. To have your own brain and body rebel and scream lies. It hurts. I was too busy hurting to see. And remember. 

It hurts to be the one watching. 

It hurts to give and give and never get any return. To reaffirm and encourage and try to lift up someone who seems to only want to drag themselves as far down in the pits as their claws will carry them. 

And that’s what I do. What many of us with unquiet minds do. And sometimes we bring the ones holding us down with us. 

Because it is always something. It’s work. It’s a kid. It’s a bill. It’s a failure. It’s a successs that’s not success enough. It’s a wonderful weekend of love and magic that your brain tells you to fight against for no good reason, only that you can’t believe it actually happened. 

Today, I want to remember. To be thankful for the love I take that is so freely given. Again and again. Even when I don’t see or believe it. To see, really see when someone is watching me and maybe hurting too. I want to go into the pit alone if I need, but alone. And I want to have strong, free arms to grab hold, to keep them from going into the same dark. 

That’s what love is. 

Being there. 

Seeing. 

Believing. 

Remembering every little something.

Sitting Out

 

Sitting Out

Hello, Friend

I see you’ve come around again.

Was beginning to wonder if you

hadn’t forgotten your way here.

 

But I knew you’d remember.

I remember.

That time in fifth grade, when we first met,

when I wrapped you around my waist,

tight and knotted.

Because I was afraid I’d forget.

To hold in, to hide,

to stay the way I was,

when I was small and good.

And I remember when that boy,

the nice one,

wanted to steal his dad’s car

just to try and help.

He didn’t.

He couldn’t.

I remember.

Trying to jump off the chair.

Trying to hide them beneath my socks.

Trying to hide, and then hurry.

Trying to hide within a story,

because you can’t tell that tale

the first time,

if you ever want there to be a second.

All it took was a second.

Trying to fit into a box that wouldn’t have me.

Letting people fit inside that didn’t really want me.

 

I remember trying.

I remember fighting.

I remember giving up.

 

It’s easy when you’re here, friend.

We know each other.

Our cells know the steps of the dance

and we move together,

without needing music.

Because we’ve rounded this room together

for a long time.

And I don’t know how to move

without you.

 

But I wish I could.

 

Because you’re not good, friend.

You’re not a good partner in this

collapse of two.

Because only one of us ever falls.

 

You’re possessive and clawing,

You take over my soul and I can’t breathe.

When you fill my head with your thoughts

of not good enough,

of she’s better,

of he doesn’t love you,

of you should just give up,

 

I can’t hear the music

and despite rehearsal

I can’t remember the steps.

 

I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

The spotlight is blinding.

 

I’ve lost so many days with you.

Lost people.

Lost myself.

 

And every time you leave,

the sun comes back,

I say, no, not again.

Because the gloaming

might be dark and cold

but it’s honest; and at least

it puts the shadows where you can see them.

But when you knock, you bring a

a flare of bright and heat.

So hot it chills.

So cold,

I answer,

swept into your arms again.

Sweating in an icy room,

being asked if I have a fever.

 

Because I know these false-caring arms,

I know they are not arms that hold,

to return life.

But ones that suffocate, to bring

Stopped breath.

And then

nothing.

 

So yes, hello Friend.

I see you’ve come around again.

I hear the music coming from behind you,

and I see you holding out your hand,

asking for another turn,

around our wooden floor.

nicked with heel marks,

worn smooth from years

of spins and shuffles and falls.

 

I’m turning off the sound,

even though it’s still rattling in my brain.

Probably always will.

And my feet will tap

to the ghost tunes of

the waltzes I can’t forget,

that left me gasping,

tired,

and bleeding.

 

But I can’t let you in.

I’m not dancing tonight.

 

I’m standing,

arm across the threshold,

giving myself a chance

to stand.

For me.

With me.

Willing to say goodbye.

For a chance at

an awkward, unsteady,

but real

hello.

 

To a life without you,

Friend,

For a life with me.

 

(Taking a break from the novel to consider my next work of a poetry collection. Stay tuned. And of course, the book Drowning Above Water still lives at Amazon.)

 

Seeing Monsters

I know that it’s coming,

prying open the door,

creeping up the back stairs

creaking, I feel it more

with each step

It’s not a surprise.

I knew it was coming

as soon as my eyes

opened this morning and

here it is, friendly stance.

Punctual. Cordial.

Ready to dance.

But it’s ugly. It’s awkward.

It claws my insides.

Blood on my skin.

Tears in my eyes.

It can’t take the blame though,

I called this thing here.

My beautiful monster, my ravenous twin

built from my failure, my failings and sin.

My raving and cursing

not grateful for much

spewing jealous and anger

over authenticity such

a typical mess

like I always create.

Disavowing a trust

and dooming my fate.

Because I can’t just believe

and I can’t just relax.

That’s not what I do.

I just know attacks.

I want both arms straight out

pushing hard, fast away,

Don’t let them hurt you.

Don’t let them stay.

Cause, they will

you remember,

that one did before.

And now, my creation

looms fresh at my door,

needing its feeding,

my fear and my doubt.

So I’ll offer them up

but then turn about,

and sad, wonder why

I’m alone with the beast

snorting, and panting

while I watch the feast.

Yet, I won’t try to fight,

won’t raise arms or defend.

Wanting to wait till the dark, bitter end.

Someday, I won’t need this.

I’ll scratch and I’ll fight,

against the gnarled feelings

that haunt in the night.

They’re not what can hurt me,

they’re not even real.

It’s only what I make,

what I want to see.

And I want to see possible.

Not just the disguise.

Not just flights of fancy

or fears behind eyes.

So maybe tomorrow

but tonight, I atone,

and dance through the night,

seeing monsters,

alone.

 

Backslide

I really had it cornered for a few days. I had it on the run and then I tricked it, with my cunning, healthy wiles, and it was alone and helpless in a corner.

And then I let that son of a bitch get away. 
The cluster of towering negative thoughts. The big, bad ones. The ones that threaten harm and ensure the people who say they will stay, will surely go. My mystical golem of the feelings of worthlessness and stupidity. Fears and anxieties made real. I had it trapped. And then I screwed up and I let it go. 

I had been doing pretty well. I had loaded up my Instagram feed with body positive pictures and eating disorder recovery accounts. I had practiced writing down my stream-of-conscious negative thoughts and then editing them into more realistic and reasonable fact statements. I even attended a seminar on overcoming anxiety. It was coming together. 

And then shit fell apart. 

And I don’t know why. 

It just happens sometimes. 

I spent a solid hour on Sunday crying. Now, that’s exhausting business. I forgot how mentally and physically draining that kind of weep can be. I also ran got an hour. The crying was hands-down harder. 

(Sidebar: not a doctor so not actual medical advice, but I tried treating emotional pain like physical pain. I took some ibuprofen, and that actually provided some relief. )

I took a picture of myself for some forsaken reason. But I’m not including that. I’m not at that level of self-acceptance. Ain’t nobody trying to see tears running down my red, chubby cheeks and snot dangling from the end of my swollen nose. Maybe I want to remember that moment. A place I don’t want to see anymore. Keep it as a memory. 

The thing that pisses me off the most is that I was making progress. I had a few good days strung together on my bangle band of healing. I had mornings when I woke up feeling decent and nights where I was busy and not just counting the minutes until I could respectfully go to sleep. 

Then this bullshit. That’s what it is. Not real. Not actual tragedy. Made up mind lies and bullshit. But the result and my response is unfortunately the same. 

I’m flailing. I’m pushing people away. I’m snarling and snapping at the people I should be caring for the most. I’m kinda being a self-absorbed, indulgent asshole. I don’t like it. It scares me and I don’t want to do it anymore. So I won’t. 

Tonight, I’m giving up. 8:33 is a respectable bed time, no?

Tomorrow, I stop.  I get that greedy bastard back in a corner. Try to talk. Reach out. Connect. Initiate. Attempt to take another swing. Keep fighting for things that are impossibly far away but won’t get closer just by looking at them. 

Tomorrow, I dig my heels in, stop the backslide, and start climbing again. 

Maybe It’s Supposed To Hurt


I’m trying to learn to play guitar. 

I’m failing at learning to play guitar. 

When I play, which I do try to do every day, it’s just awful. I try harder and it’s awful-er. I want to have talent so much and it bugs me that I don’t.(Yes, I know how ridiculous and worthless my entitled that sounds. Princess also wants a sailboat and a pink pug that barks to the tune of Beethoven’s Sonata 8.) Failing at things like guitar bug me so much and I get so wound about the metaphorical peg that I dig the wood of the curves into my legs. 

Kind of my leitmotif. 

And I don’t know how to loosen the strings.

Sometimes it’s a harmless and endearing quirk. Look, she gets shaky and high-pitched when asked to quickly choose an ice cream flavor! Adorable. 

(Not adorable. I picked uni-flavor frozen yoghurt because I didn’t want to be judged for the red velvet ice cream I really wanted. So much idiocy and suck.)

Sometimes, it’s a problem. Like when you melt (ice cream call back) at work because your kid’s been wearing the wrong uniform for weeks, and the friendly girls at the Catholic school calls to scold you. 

(Also, not fucking adorable. Interwebs clothing company, if you categorize uniforms by school, why is it even possible for me to buy the wrong shirts? I can’t negotiate that mess. I am a Jen, not a Roy or Moss, to those who know the reference. Just sell me the correct shit.)

And sometimes, it’s an absolute horror show. Now, I work in a hospital. Master’s educate. Clinician. Direct patient care. I really do get that bodies are fragile, sometimes offensive bits of carbon and effluvia. So, it makes no sense that I’d have such shame about my own and what it does. But, I was embarrassed by my physical self this weekend. And not because of how it looks. Details spared here, but Jesus Christ. (Catholic call back)

It was Carrie farting in front of Big level of mortification. And I don’t know why it crashed me. But it did. 

(Yes. I’ll also make a two decade old Sex and the City reference. Kiss my ancient, brittle, hag ass. )

The difference and the only saving salve of that mess was letting someone talk me down from the loft vibrations of my  high strung heights. 

I never do that. It’s smart and healthy and healing. Why would I do that? I’ve always chosen, CHOSEN, to stay pissed. To stay shamed. To stay hurt and full of my own needless guilt. I hang on to that shit with two closed fists like I need those ugly rotting feels to live. Why????

Who wants to spend a day like that? Who finds comfort in feeling like utter shit? Who actively tries to behave like the nightmare, asshole girl who is the tragic-but-true punchline to a sexist joke?

Apparently this broad. Yes. I know boys and girls. Ridiculously sexy and appealing. Queue forms to the left. Keep it orderly. Preference given to pixie-cuts and poets. 

If you want to learn how to push people out of your life at lightning speed, the the above instructions and tips. I’m a professional away pusher because of this. I feel something that hurts, like hurts usually do, and I push and blame and make being around me supremely unpleasant. And I see myself doing it. Split- screen brain screams “youredoingitahainstopniwimeanitknockitthefuckoff!!!!!”

No one likes a dick. I mean, they do, but not in this version of the movie. I want to stop being a selfish, high strung dick. 

I started. Somehow, mercifully, I actually let this one go. I let myself feel mortified, stayed there for a while but then I took the hand that was extended and crawled out into the world. 

Fuck that was big and scary. And this shows clearly my skewed perspective and priorities and vanity. Yes. Again, queue to the left. 

And it was okay. It was weird. Tried to joke about it. Kinda fell flat. Tried another  and that one hit. Everyone made it through to the morning. Tired as hell. But the bagels and coffee he gave me were delicious. 

So, loosen the strings. Ease up on that guitar. Having it cut into your skin won’t make Clair de Lune sound any less slow and painful when I fumble through it. But, if I keep reaching out my fingers, I just might find I make my through it. 

I hope there are coffees and bagels when I get there. Or even better, real ice cream.