Take Care of Her – Chapter 9

Chapter 9

The red dots on her phone never went away.  Gretchen hadn’t taken a call or acknowledged a voicemail or text in almost two weeks. She just couldn’t bear it – couldn’t fathom spending the day, or even an hour away from the girl. It was a life better than Gretchen ever imagined. Until one night, when the girl started crying.

“Honey, what is it?” The girl shook her head. “Tell me. Please. I bet if we talk about it you’ll feel better.”

The little girl sniffed into her pillow, burrowing herself deeper into the big bed. “I’m afraid you won’t be here.”

“What?” Gretchen asked, her heart sinking. “Baby, no. I’ll always be here.”

“I’m alone sometimes. And I get scared. I don’t like to be alone.”

Gretchen wrapped the girl in her arms. “You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone. I promise you. I will always take care of you.” The girl trembled and Gretchen felt the tears on her own skin. They cried together. Sometime in the night, they both fell asleep. Together. In the morning, they both went to see Rachel.

“I’m glad to see you. You missed appointments. I was concerned.” Rachel sat in the chair, notebook in her lap.

“I should have come earlier,” Gretchen said. “As soon as she came. I should have brought her in. Should have made you take to her. You didn’t believe me and I should have fought harder. This has to be so scary for her. I wasn’t a good enough mom.”

“It’s a great initiative you’ve taken. Really embracing this concept of caring for your inner child. You should be very proud of yourself.”

“This isn’t about me. It’s about her.”

“Yes. This of it this way, that by protecting and empowering the child of your inner self-“

“No. Stop your therapy shit. Her. Right there. I brought her in today. You have to work with her. She’s afraid. I want you to help her.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Rachel leaned in to Gretchen. “Explain it to me.”

“What am I not explaining? Her. I know she’s struggling and I want you to help her.”

Gretchen turned to the little girl. “This is my friend, Rachel. I talk to her sometimes. And she helps me. I wanted her to meet you. Maybe you’d like to talk to her.”

The little girl shook her head. “You. I only like talking to you.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “what’s going on?”

“I want you to talk to her. She doesn’t like me to leave, so I have to stay in the room. But maybe we could all talk-“

“Are you requesting some role play, or some dissociated-“

“I’m requesting that you acknowledge, that you look at and talk to this little girl. Right here. Right now.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “we are the only ones in this room.”

“What is wrong with you? This beautiful little girl, who is scared and needs help and you’re acting like she’s not even there.”

“There is no little girl, Gretchen. There’s only you and me.”

Gretchen kneeled on the floor so she could be as close to the girl as possible.

“I don’t like it here anymore. I want to go home.” The little girl looked up to Gretchen with tears in her eyes.

“We’re going home,” Gretchen said. She stood and took the girl by the hand.

“Wait. Please,” Rachel said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. Can you give me a minute? I’ll help. I just want to get something. Something for her. I’ll be right back. I promise. I’ll help.”

Rachel left the room. Gretchen squeezed the girl’s hand.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3

Merlot was easy. Not cold. Not hot. Not sweet. Not something she had to think about. Not something she had to remember. The first glass was fast. The second, she drank as slowly as she could manage, thinking about every sip. Still fifteen minutes before her therapy appointment. She couldn’t wait any longer. Gretchen gulped the last of the wine in one sip and paid the bill. At least it was happy hour.

Rachel didn’t call her back into her office until 6:02.

“How’s the week been?” Rachel started.

Gretchen’s eyes filled with tears when she answered. “Same.”

“That’s okay,” Rachel said. “Remember what we talked about last time. You’ve had a loss. And you’re grieving. The feelings that you are experiencing, that are making things difficult for you, are normal. And expected.”

“Still?” Gretchen asked.

“There’s no timeline on sadness. I think you’re doing fine.”

“I don’t feel fine. I feel like I’m dying.”

“Is that a reasonable description of what you’re feeling?”

“I don’t know,” Gretchen said.

“Do you think it’s possible that you might be mis-naming this continued discomfort? Calling the feeling something a little unreasonable? That while you may be hurting, that you know you’re not actually dying?”

“This isn’t helping,” Gretchen said.

“Why do you think that?”

“I know what you’re looking for. Yes. I brushed my teeth today. Yes. I went to work. I slept. More or less. I ate. More or less.”

“And you don’t think that’s doing well?”

“I also cry every day. I think about him every day. I hurt every day.”

“That’s absolutely expected.”

“Maybe I should hurt. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I deserve it.”

“That’s a false thought.”

“That’s all I have.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said.

“I know,” Gretchen said.

Rachel settled into a long pause. “What was your favorite birthday party as a kid?”

“What?”

“A true thought. A time. A happy memory. Something you loved.”

“I can’t think of anything happy. Nothing’s happy.”

“Is that a false thought?”

Gretchen curled her knees to her chest and tucked into the upholstered chair.

“What’s another version of that thought? Take your time and give yourself a chance to remember. To really consider all the possible choices.”

“My fifth birthday,” Gretchen said. “My mom let me paint my nails purple and I got a white cat.”

“That’s happy,” Rachel said.

Gretchen nodded.

“Was that girl worth it? The purple nails and the white cat? Did she deserve those things?”

Gretchen hugged her knees tighter to her chest.

“Consider that as an equally true and valid thought.” Rachel made sure she had Gretchen’s full attention. “You didn’t ask for this hurt or sadness. But you’re dealing with it. You didn’t ask for the job of healing yourself, but you got it. And your job is to take care of that five-year old. So make sure she knows how worthy and good enough she is.”

Gretchen didn’t cry any more.  She didn’t say much for the rest of the session.

She listened.

Empty Egg (or how to make your own coffee)

I have a problem with jealousy. It’s not a small problem. It’s not an idiosyncrasy or a cute quirk. It’s a looming, strangling flaw that has suffocated more relationships than I’d like to admit. Most of them, to be honest. Okay. All of them. And the ones it hasn’t killed, it’s prevented. No one wants to be new friends with an asshole.

My therapist (yes, I’m that girl. I’m starting a paragraph with “my therapist”, but come on. Look around you. Maybe more people should be doing this.) gave me a metaphor. He’s big on them and they tickle me.

This one involved brunch foods.

He really gets me.

First, we talked about coffee. The gist was that I’m an empty coffee cup. It’s my job to see that there is coffee in my cup. Not the cook’s. Not the waitress’. Mine. Others cannot be my coffee. They can be my Splenda. They can be my half and half. They can be my light soy foam. They can enhance, delight, make more aromatic and delicious. But other people cannot be the coffee. I have to be the coffee.

Next, we talked about eggs. My therapist described me as being a beautiful painted egg, artistic and engaging. But most painted eggs are hollow, the innards blown out through a tiny hole in the bottom. This makes them veneer thin and fragile. The slightest tap can shatter them. They are gorgeous. And the slightest wind will eradicate them.

That’s what happens to me. I want someone else to fill my mug.  If I encounter the slightest contrary force, I’m a mess of splinters. I’m a failed breakfast.

To get through life, I need coffee and eggs without the shell. And I need to be the one to order and make them.  I can’t let other people be my happy. I have to find or if I can’t find it, manufacture my own happy. If I can do that, fill the space with substance that sustains me, maybe I won’t be so easily broken.

Here’s the bug in that particular batter: when you are a parent, you rarely get to chase after your own fulfillment.

Now, I know that sounds awful. It sounds callous and selfish. As a parent, aren’t we told we should be filled with indescribable, ever-mounting daily joy, all the time, just because we have a child?

What if you’re not?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. With my entire soul. I love being with him. His laugh lights up my universe. When he’s not with me, it feels like my heart is bopping around the world without me. It’s crushing to go to sleep knowing he’s not in the next room.

But, the contrary is equally as strong and true.  Because I am a mother and I am committed to that job, and to raising a strong, capable, happy kid, I am usually unable to pursue my own happy.

Because simply being a mom isn’t enough to make me happy.

That’s horrible. It sounds horrible in my head and it’s horrible to see in print. But that’s what it is.

It hurt when I had to give up acting to be a mom. I resent that I can’t buy a decent camera to work on the photography I love because I have to pay for braces. And I am as bitter as that coffee I expect someone else to pour me every time I miss an opportunity to make a piece of art because I have to be at a school meeting or sit at an unending baseball practice.

And I’m not even good. It’s not as if the world is minus a master because I don’t have the time to put out another poem. But I feel it. And every time I see a friend or even my wonderful, generous partner succeed at their crafts, my own envy over takes me. I become as dark and toxic as yesterday’s espresso. It’s insufferable. I hear the words I say and I want to tear out my own tongue in disgust. That’s not me and I hate that woman. But she appears almost every day. I’m want to kill her.

The bleak reality is that there’s no good fix. I won’t spend less time and effort on my son. And I can’t put any more time into me. Therefore, I will continue to fall into deep caverns of rage, sadness and fuming jealousy.

And I know these are uptown problems. I can’t begin to even pretend I know what actual struggle is. If I was faced with the horrors people across this world are dealing with, I’d crumble. I’m not brave. I’m silly and vain and weak. I’m the woman Ruth Bader Ginsburg orders for brunch and spits out into her perfect napkin because goddesses like her don’t have time for slimy, fatty  omelets like me.

So, here with the computer and the silly words it is. Putting something out. Trying not to fall apart. Egg in the pan. Shells in the compost. Coffee in the cup. Trying  to add some light to the darkest  brew. I have to make my own coffee. Somehow find a way. I have to fill my egg with something. Because I don’t want to be a shell. I want to hold a life. Mine.

 

 

Alyssa Herron is a mom and author. The caliber of either is up for debate. Her new novel is available at Amazon.

 

Blackberries and Zofran

No. Really. Fuck them

No. Really. Fuck them

It is a sorry god damn state of affairs when a beautiful boy makes you a beautiful dinner nestled in a beautiful blackberry/adobo sauce (all three indeed more beautiful than I can describe) and you can do nothing but stare at it. When your head is so twisted with its own anxiety and vain, foolish, selfish depression that you can not swallow the gorgeous food, you really do want to fuck feelings. And not in a loving, respectful, consentful way.

My response to heartbreak and hurt is as scattered and multi-polar as it is enthusiastic. The more it pinches inside, the harder I will push outside to find a way to make it not.

Over the years I have thrown many things at my ugly feelings. I tried increasing to a more vigorous running schedule. It helps. It does. But not always and not enough. I have also knit yards of yarn for blankets and sweaters and coffee mug cozies, often unwinding the whole mess, only to purl the whole thing back together. One unexpected dealing bent was the pagan/Wiccan/goddess worship altar that is now tucked away on a shelf. Blessed be, I will search every dusty unusual corner to get any dirty little bit of help to hurt less.

After a recent particularly prickly ouch, I went to books. Mostly because I love them. But more than that. The thought process is this: if I’m convinced I’m fucked and broken, I need to find out how to fix it. Because everything has to have a fix, right?  I don’t know how to fix myself.  Books know things. I’ll ask a book.

Seems I’ve been asking the wrong books. See, I am not a creature of sweetness and light. I am a creature of sarcasm, dark oily cigars, light amber whisky and a font of self-deprecation that can not be emptied. Seeking out books to make me a more positive, optimistic girl are more useful to me propping up my bed so I have more room for shoes, and other…things, under it. Motivating posts make me want to retch. I’ve strained more than one ocular muscle with my vigorous eye rolling in irritation at uplifting messages. When I read a string of hashtags followed a litany of weight loss success numbers and workout wins, I want to punch innocent, and rightfully proud friends in their skinny, toned asses.   If only I’d put that energy into my running. I’d be fast as hell and have a much different relationship with my thighs.

Yes. I’m even more fun to be around than you can imagine. If you imagine Pittsburgh rush hour, game day traffic fun.

F*ck Feelings is my jam. I’m not a writing critic, so I’ll leave that to the fine likes of big, delicious minds like Ms. Kakutani. But I love the ideas of this book. What I’m getting from it, big picture, is to stop flagellating yourself because of what you deal with day to day. Everyone has shit. We procrastinate. We drink too much. We cheat and yell. Lots of us feel bad when we do that. What Dr. Bennett and Ms. Bennett lay out, to my simple understanding,  is that there is no magic happy. There is no algorithmic fix. The best we can do, is stop kicking ourselves for the shit that is far out of our control. You instead save that leg strength to step ahead. Baby steps. Every day. Doing something better. Is it still going to suck? You bet your sweet sassafras. But you can do something. And then you can be snarkily proud of yourself for getting through the day.

And somedays, getting through is the best you can do. This weekend I had one of those. I wanted to fuck feeling and fuck ugly thoughts, both at the same time. And that stuff doesn’t go away. Yesterday I felt like garbage because I’m an adult that doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Right this second, I’m watching the debate and I’m racing  around in my head about what an idiot I am because I don’t understand trickle down economics. Are those things I can do something about? Maybe. I could study. Learn. One of those books I love. Who knows? Likely, I’m not that coordinated or sharp. But, tonight, I have clean towels and clean bathrooms and lunches packed for tomorrow. Can I dare feel good about that? Maybe. Just maybe.

There are things to feel good about, if you stop and let it happen and don’t kick it in the head as soon as they appear.

When this weekend I was falling apart in front of amazing food, and chose very poorly to drink wine instead  (yes, fuck feelings, but fervent, sloppy hugs and kisses for Zofran, because that’s some good anti-puke science in a little pill) I had someone catch me. Again. The man’s arms have got to be exhausted. He spent hours, truly hours, not telling me things. Granted, he did, he started, but he also saw that I wasn’t hearing any of the caring, supportive things he was saying. Much like I couldn’t eat that god damn marvelous burrito. Not proud of any of that.

So, instead, he stepped back, held out his hand, and helped me pull myself out of my hole. My hole. Of my making. He didn’t  need me to change who I was. Didn’t ask me to be bouncy and smiley. Let me be inwardly curled and quiet. And simply let me be where I was and who I was and said: Tell me what you like about yourself.

Big, gaping, opaque blank.

And then he asked again. And again. And didn’t take no, or nothing, or I don’t know for an answer.

So I gave him an answer. I came up with something. Mostly bollock answers. But not all. I named a few somethings. Little somethings. But somethings.

It was frightful and shudder-making and a gift for which I am humbled and so, so grateful.

I’m not the girl who is bright and shiny. Never will be and I can’t feel badly about that.  I have enough bad feelings, and yes, fuck those. I’m lousy and selfish and forgetful. But, not always. I’m also the girl who has made some good choices, and who can keep trying to do the best she can with the shit she has been dealt. That’s a big, beautiful something. Not as beautiful as that boy and that beautiful blackberry sauce that I couldn’t enjoy with the unrepentant pleasure it deserved. But I’ll make that up to him. And I’ll let myself feel good about that.

So, yes. Fuck feelings. Especially the bad ones.

But not the ones for fantastic boys that make you burritos.