Tangled

I’m attempting to decorate the house and it’s leaving me frustrated.

Not just frustrated, but to the brim. Every little extra thing is spilling me over the edge. Stubbing my toe. Knocking something over. A Christmas light catching on something and pulling it with it.

But I know that my baseline has been temporarily raised. A stubbed toe isn’t really just a stubbed toe right now.

The Christmas lights. That’s where I’m getting the most frustrated. Even the ones that were neatly put away are a tangle when I try to get them out. The delicate ones fold and knot. The bigger ones catch on each other. Half of them, I have to throw out anyway — the lights are out and I can’t pinpoint which bulbs ruined it for the rest of them.

And they catch and snag when I try to hang them across the house. I slam my shin on the back of a chair and the noise I make is something primal.

“Why do I even bother?” I find myself thinking again and again. Because the lights are so beautiful, I find myself answering. Because you’ve decided the pain and frustration of all these entanglements are worth the beauty it can create.

I smirk. Maureen from Rent enters my mind again. Idina Menzel staring wide eyed at the stage lights and shouting, “It’s a metaphor!”

It is.

Christmas has a heaviness to it. The holiday season doubles the weight in our baggage somehow. It’s why every song about December is morose and melancholy. It’s just a more heightened time, while we simultaneously get dragged down.

I’ve returned to recovery meetings. The ones meant for the family of those addicted. This time I’m focusing on the meetings for adult children of alcoholics. It’s fitting: it was around this time, four years ago, I started going to the broader ones. Walking in and sobbing during the meeting, sobbing afterwards, grateful beyond measure that my career hadn’t really taken off, that I had the time to drive around and cry and process.

I know I need them. Specifically for the meetings for children who grew up in it. I’m a textbook case. I know I am. All I have to do is pay attention when they read from the Laundry List in the very beginning of the meeting. If this were a high school test, they’d be putting me in the honors classes.

We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We overcommit and get angry at those who don’t do the same.

Yup. Yup. Yup.

There’s a panel in the Watchmen graphic novel. Dr. Manhattan looks up at the sky and says, “I’m tired of earth, these people. I’m tired of being in the caught of the tangle of their lives.” I read that novel years and years ago, and I keep coming back to that one panel.

I’ve cried too much this year because of how tangled up I was in other people’s lives. So tangled up that it was inevitable that the cords would eventually wrap around my neck. I’ve taken off what I can. Cut what I had to. Taken steps back and put up boundaries and reminded myself that, “healthy people have boundaries; sick people feel guilty for even thinking about having them.” Decided, perhaps foolishly, that some tangles are okay — that the beauty of those lights are worth it.

I’ve learned a lot. Learned that if someone takes a step back, you don’t take a step forward. Learned that you can pour your heart out and still be left to clean it up alone. Learned that trying to untangle someone else’s mess just leaves you with lacerations on your skin. I’m doing my best to practice better boundaries and better self advocacy — but the fact remains, the more invested I am, the likely it is I’m going to slam my shins and stub my toe.

I keep coming back to one night this year, when two of my friends got uproariously drunk. They were gliding across the house and making wild plans and statements. The owner of the house turned to me, the quiet, mostly sober one, and said, “thank you.”

Thank you for being the responsible one. Thank you for being small when the others are taking up space. Lest anyone forget that the reinforcement for this behavior comes from all angles.

There’s a line from a TV show, about Christmas. About how we put up all these lights to safeguard against the darkest time of year. That we put up with all its tangles because otherwise the blackness fills the space instead. The funniest thing is, the line was barely a sentence long. So short and so obscure that you can’t find it anywhere online, even if you search the episode’s name. Just like the Watchmen panel, it’s something small that made something big within my soul.

I’d be amiss to say that I’m still getting used to some of the cuts I’ve made this year. The air is cold in the distance I created. There’s a phantom ache across my skin where those tangled cords once threatened to cut off circulation. Perhaps I’m afraid that stepping away from the tangles means that the lights have abandoned me too, that the darkness will close in. Perhaps suffocating entanglement at least meant things were shiny and bright.

Perhaps I just have to have faith that I’m making the right decisions, win, lose, or draw. That the ones I signed on to keep will straighten themselves out, that I’ll be rewarded with beauty in linear fashion, and not a mess that will leave me with indents in my skin and bruises on my shins and a primal sound of suffering escaping my mouth.

Winter

I feel its first introduction when I step out of the store.

That rawness, the air sharp, even as the skies are softened with gray. There are garlands already wrapped around on the posts outside the store. It’s hard to tell if it’s misting or lightly snowing.

I breathe it in, making me think about the factoid about the smell after rain. That humans are more sensitive to the smell, to the bacteria that make it, than sharks are to blood in the water. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there, or quaint symbolism if I think about it for long enough.

But it’s hard for me to dive in deep. My skin has its own rawness to it, its own sharpness. I’m getting sick. Once again.

I have to wonder if I have to welcome every changing season with sickness. I remember the cold that lay me out when summer turned to fall this year. The flu (despite getting the yearly shot) once spring stepped forward, forcing me out of a race I spent all winter trying to train for.

It’s like I have to react violently and viscerally to change. That my whole body has to throw itself into tumult.

The time change has just happened as well, and I feel like I’m an hour delayed on everything.

For years I wrote about the holidays. For four years in a row, I laid out my own rawness about Christmastime.

And, in some ways, it makes sense. Even without the catalyst events, the life thrown into tumult and then built back up again, the holidays bring their own edge.

I’m intrigued by this edge. I still don’t know how the holidays are able to make the darkest time of year a little brighter and a little heavier, simultaneously. I don’t know how Christmas lights can shine sweetly and yet sting. Tens of thousands of words later, and I still can’t get to the bottom of it.

But last year, I had stopped. Last year I didn’t even feel the ping to wax philosophical on Christmas. Perhaps it’s because sometimes things are better left felt and not analyzed.

This is the time of year I have to think about vitamin D supplements. Broad spectrum UV lights. Alarm clocks that mimic sunrise. Anything to counteract the disappearing light.

(And perhaps that’s really the culprit, and the poor Jingle Bell Rock has been the scapegoat for a deficiency in vitamin D and an off-kilter internal clock.)

I’ve been talking up a yoga instructor I know, whose classes I used to take regularly when we were at the same studio. About how she embraces this dark period, as tough as it can be. She holds classes on the winter solstice, reads poetry about the darkness. Expounds that the dark times are part of the ebb and flow, and chasing the light constantly means we’re denying half of the scope of human condition.

It’s funny to think about. After such a rollercoaster year, it is as the days have been getting shorter that things have been feeling a little lighter. A bit more hopeful. Ironically, the darkest parts were confronted during the sunniest days, and I spent them disappearing into the mountains to try to build my soul back up. The days that had the most edge were the ones when the sun was highest in the sky.

Perhaps a nice reminder that the natural world doesn’t bend to your bidding.

I am definitely sick. There is no other way around it.

Whatever cold someone had, I have it now. I muddle through classes, I mainline cough syrup and ibuprofen. I cancel whatever it superfluous. I rest.

“Getting sick is sometimes my body’s only way of getting me to slow down,” I tell a friend, when I explain I won’t be around this weekend, when they remark that I keep getting walloped with disease.

Slowing down. If fall applies easy brakes, winter slams on them — and the whiplash is sometimes pretty severe. Softened perhaps only by the lights, the jingles, that gentle rawness in the air that’s like blood to sharks in the water.

Today, the snow is unambiguously falling. It gathers and dances in the air and makes whirlpools against the ground. But nothing sticks. It’s a trickster of an introduction. Something slick and flighty, something sharply beautiful against the cherished remaining sun.

The Whole Image

My husband got me into a new game. A puzzle where you have to figure out the image based on nothing but number clues along the top and side of a blank square. Empty rows & columns, and you only get three mistakes before you have to restart (four if you’re willing to watch a commercial).

It’s a game of patience, of looking at the numbers and seeing what they can tell you. Slowly chipping away, even if it means agonizing over the numbers only to fill in exactly one block.

I avoided it at first. Numbers get jumbled in my head. Math made me cry in frustration until I abandoned the subject entirely. But like so many other things that make me want to run, I stepped forward into it, if only to say I can.

I’m not great at it. The numbers still get jumbled and I’ll make a move assuming I saw one number when it was something else. And sometimes I stare at the tiles, unsure what my next move is going to be.

“This puzzle is giving me nothing,” I’ve said a few times to my husband, more times than I should.

“Well, tell me about that row,” is all he’ll say, and point to a spot on my screen. He knows the answer and isn’t giving it to me. He wants me to find it on my own. Teach a man to fish instead of giving it to him, in a sense.

And it’s a quick lesson with the fishing line. I figure something out on that row, and then another, and then another. And suddenly the entire puzzle is figured out. Suddenly a bunch of white tiles is now a mosaic. A flower, a sunrise, the pyramids. Chaos and confusion evolved into beauty.

Continue reading “The Whole Image”

Fall

It’s an album I haven’t listened to in ages, and their recent concert had inspired me to dig it back up.

The intro does something to my soul. There’s a stirring, a recollection of the past, that I can’t put my finger on. As the boyband singers croon, I’m transported — but I don’t know where.

It becomes the most fascinating walk down memory lane. I play the intro over, and over again. It’s nighttime. That much I know. There’s a rumble underneath me and I eventually deduce that I’m in a car. And I’m the one driving. And I feel peace, like I’m about to embark on something. But where am I? Where am I going? Why is this song placing me in this unknown car? I’m here by sight and by feel and nothing else to connect me.

I slowly piece it back together. It’s 2008. I’m learning stick shift, albeit it by myself. It’s my mom’s car, but my father had given me a quick lesson before leaving me to it. I’m leaving my parents’ house to drive around the neighborhood, to get comfortable with manual transmission.

It’s 2008 and the album just came out and I bought it on CD and I have it in the CD player. It’s my soundtrack as I shift from first, to second, to third, my left foot clumsily at the clutch. I remember clear skies and quiet nights and the Backstreet Boys slowly singing out, “Last night I saw the fireworks, the kind of pain that never hurts...”

How peculiar, how unnerving, how amazing, to have such a deep memory encapsulated in a song — and to not fully remember the moment, to have it only stored as the night air and an engine’s rumble and a serene sense of calm as the night unfolds before you.

Continue reading “Fall”

Forty-Eight, Again

(For Part One.)

An old classmate gave this advice: mourn the first anniversary, but stop keeping track after that.

Granted, he went back on his own advice a year or so later, but I still gave it weight. And I tried it myself. And, just like him, I faltered by the second anniversary. It’s just too big of a mile marker. It’s the notch you count the rings of the tree against.

When you lose your father, no matter what the relationship was, there is a distinct line drawn. A before and an after. And one can’t help but measure the distance between them and that line. Continue reading “Forty-Eight, Again”

Slow is a Good Look

Fort Lauderdale, in some ways, feels like homecoming.

It’s only my fourth time here, but perhaps it’s in the same way just a few trips to the midwest can create a homebase. Sometimes your soul just knows what and where (or who) home is, where it can rest its head in the tumult of the world.

But it’s also my fourth time here, and that would usually get me antsy. I’ve already been here. Let’s see what a new town is like, new state, new country. There’s too vast of a world to tread the same soil multiple times. It’s an insatiable wanderlust that I’ve been trying to reckon with, try to balance out, try to calm down and smooth over. 

Yes, it’s a vast world, but what parts of it will really soak in if your eyes are constantly on the horizon, the next bend in the road.

I was the one to suggest it. Come down to Florida for our annual vacation in June. Come to the very spot that introduced Florida to me in the first place, introduced me to a version of the Atlantic that wasn’t always cold, beaches that weren’t filled with rocks. It was partly pragmatic, partly a tradeoff (how many vacations of ours have been adventure packed, even the so-called low-key ones?), but largely a practice in slowing down. I don’t have to constantly be darting all over the map. It’s still a foreign concept to me, but sometimes homecomings can feed the soul, too. Continue reading “Slow is a Good Look”

Cleanse

The sun is out and I can barely stay inside.

Let’s go on a hike. Or a run. Or a walk. And a drive. Maybe just sit on porch and take in the breeze through the trees as the neighbor’s cat rubs up against my legs and hisses at my own cats indoors.

If I’m inside, every shade is up, every window opened. If I forget to close them, I wake up with the sun, regardless as to what time I got to sleep, as if my own circadian rhythm is going, “How dare you stay asleep when the world around you has awoke?”

The power of the sunlight drifts into the night, and the warm air and a bonfire are plenty substitute for a noonday sun. I still feel the energy, as if skin pinkened by the flames is the same as skin warming under the sun.

I try my best to mitigate how the winter’s weather affects me, but beautiful days remind me that it works in the opposite direction, too. I don’t realize how much energy I can have until the literal fog is lifted. The fog and the rain and the mist and the cold, dreary air. Continue reading “Cleanse”