[sunday night ramblings.]
I’m feeling restless, a need to move. it comes in waves — these reminders that this is my home for the foreseeable future. that’s a long time.
my next stop will be international. or maybe someplace rural. or both. I see myself writing and running and practicing yoga and using whatever skills I have to positively impact humanity.
that’s a pretty ambitious plan.
I’ve been dating someone who confidently asserted that he will never live abroad. seemed like a red flag, but it’s tinier and a less vivid red than past flags.
even without that flag, I do worry a bit that I don’t have very strong feelings.
but he’s intelligent and good looking and stable. and he’s nice and he likes me and I should probably just take what I can get. I’m hanging on and hoping a spark grows.
I haven’t felt much like spending time with anyone.
I thought I could handle stopping by a familiar bar to see a familiar face perform familiar music, but instead I just became overwhelmed and heartsick. one song in particular pressed the air from my lungs and I began shifting nervously and nauseously and wishing that I wasn’t alone.
I cried for hours. I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t find some thing that would soothe. I felt a little angry because look at all these people having fun. my mind briefly filled with the things they thought about me because I wiped my eyes and discarded my drink and left abruptly. or maybe they didn’t notice.
I do wish that I didn’t spend so much time alone. but I don’t know how to ask for that. I don’t know who to ask for that. I’m not sure anyone could live up to the deep quiet and stillness that I crave.
I feel like I’m doing this all wrong. I’m not sure how much longer my friends will put up with my failure to respond to their messages, my last minute plan canceling, my irritability and anxiousness. I can’t believe how long this sad is lasting. it feels like forever. the calendar says four weeks.
I ignore calls and messages because I don’t feel much like talking anymore. to anyone. I just want to sit still and breathe.
friends’ voices echo inside me, urging me to abandon the regret, the guilt. I quickly respond that, if we’re doing it right, these bad feelings creep into our brains because we did something wrong. because sometimes we, humans, just deserve to feel bad. it’s the emotional equivalent of touching a pan, hot off the stove — it should hurt, a lot. because if it doesn’t, you’ll just burn yourself and others again and again and never really learn your lesson.
and your lesson is this: you did something shitty to someone. you did something shitty to yourself. now it’s time to learn from your mistakes. your body is producing all kinds of chemicals that will swirl around in your skull and bathe your brain in a cocktail of sadness. you can’t rewrite these scenes that have past, but you’ll learn more, and be better, and you won’t let something like this happen again.
you’ll be kinder and more patient, and try harder and you’ll make sure you never hurt anyone ever, because you don’t want that hanging over you. you’ll wish for love, love, only love.
you’ll spend a lot of your interactions thinking: if this person is gone tomorrow, can I live with our relationship as it stands now. sometimes that means walking away. some people are better off without you. sometimes that means that you honestly say: I miss our friendship. I’d like to fix things. sometimes you reach out, as a reminder of your presence. sometimes you wait.
I spend a lot of my time now working extra hard to stay alive. isn’t that such a weird thing to do and say and live? it first occurred to me last week, as I was walking down a dark street at 10pm with headphones in my ears. I have to make sure I keep being alive until both my parents aren’t. they can’t go through this again. normally I’d keep my headphones in, because, statistically speaking, nothing will happen to me today. but now I can’t rely as much on the numbers. every moment I need to be extra careful, delicate. pay close attention.
every moment is a balance between insanity and life. I can’t control everything, but I can’t not try to be more conscious of the moments within my grasp. running is especially difficult. it’s so much more dangerous than we realize. drive more carefully. eat healthier. my mom could hear my voice cracking after she mentioned that she’d be having ice cream for dinner, since my dad was out of town. eat healthier. please. she did.
I’d like to take a break, find a safe space. someplace quiet, where I can breathe and lie in the sun and listen. silently.
maybe fill that time with reading. or writing. or something else that is silent and methodical and that moves forward. I’m ready to be still and move.
growing up, my parents allowed me to believe I could have anything I wanted.
I didn’t have a lot. but I also don’t remember a time when I felt bad because I went without.
we had food. a house. my parents fought fiercely for my education. I had toys, but not too many. my favorite childhood memories are made up of the time we spent together as a family.
they taught me to enjoy the moments, not the things. they taught me to think long and hard about what I had and what I needed. they rarely said no. but I also rarely asked.
but I certainly thought, with hard work, perseverance, and commitment, I could have anything that I really, truly wanted. if I wanted it badly enough, I could find a way. I would find a way.
what I didn’t grasp as a child, and what continues to elude me as an adult, is that this same effort doesn’t translate into people. no amount of tenacity would ensure that someone liked me. or that someone loved me. or that someone stayed. because sometimes people just don’t.
as I lost, I failed to see that I couldn’t stop it. I gripped tighter and stronger and held on longer and hoped harder with every single atom in my body that I could do or say or be the right things. I tried over and over, revising and rewriting, analyzing every interaction to find the point at which I’d stumbled.
and now, as I face the rest of my life without my sister, I’m feeling that familiar slipping feeling. that drowning, suffocating, crushing pressure that accompanied the desire to work harder, to do better, to fix things.
and I feel so deeply angry — angry about every single second I’ll miss. every question I won’t ask, every answer I’ll never know. every funny story we’ll never share, every comforting word I’ll never hear.
sometimes I listen to her voicemails — recalling her voice, how much she loved me.
sometimes I boil with rage, I clench my fists and dig my fingernails into my palms and feel just so furious at every moment I’ll never get, every moment my parents will never have. everything we’re left with, which is just not enough.
sometimes I lose my breath, because I want so badly to hold on better and longer and stronger and glue the pieces back together.
nearly every other loss was finite — even years later, things could be changed, the separation could end in an instant. this here, right now, today, this is when it hit me, hard, that I will never be able to collect enough commitment and passion and diligence to change this.
this loss is infinite. I no longer have my sister. for infinity.
a few months ago, toward the end of yoga class, we sat on our heels, spines straight, shoulders relaxed, chins tipped down ever so slightly, stretching the crowns of our heads toward the ceiling. our eyes were closed as we spent a few moments focusing on our breath.
one breath for someone you love
one breath for someone who needs it.
one breath for yourself.
at the time, my older sister was living on the third floor of my parents’ house, and things were tense. my sister wasn’t taking care of her health, and my parents worried constantly that their efforts to save her would fail. they tip-toed through their lives, balancing along a line that ran between setting boundaries and fearing that if they pushed her too hard, she’d walk out the door and they’d no longer be able to keep her safe.
I took one breath for my mom, who’d been alone with my sister for a few weeks while my dad renovated a house they’d purchased earlier in the year. my mom had called that weekend to tell me that she hadn’t seen my sister in two days and had spent sunday worrying that she’d have to call my dad to tell him his daughter was gone.
I took one breath for my sister, because I knew she wasn’t seeing clearly how badly things had become. I sent her a breath for strength, because we’d all tried for years to help her and we needed her to help herself.
I took one breath for myself, because I just felt so powerless, because I felt so angry, because I missed the sister I’d loved and admired as a child.
a few tears silently slid along my cheeks.
since that night, I’ve practiced those three breaths countless times. they haven’t always gone to my mom and my sister – my family, or my friends and their families, or acquaintances, or strangers have needed the support that is tangled with those deep, expansive inhales and slow, steady exhales.
last night, though, I once again took those breaths for my parents and my sister and myself. my sister died a little over a week ago, and since then I’ve needed a breath to dispel the helplessness I feel; my sister needs a breath for peace; my parents need a breath to remind them that they are loved.
I’ve been struggling and feeling completely inadequate. I feel uniquely ill-prepared to handle anything like this. I’m angry at my sister, and angry at myself for being angry at her, frustrated that I can’t articulate how I feel, ashamed that sometimes I can’t muster an emotion and other times I’m an inconsolable mess.
I’m totally awestruck by the outpouring of love and support I’ve received – I’ve needed it so much more than I knew I would. I’m exhausted – I’ve barely slept since last sunday. I have no idea what any day is going to be like, and planning for several days from now is a game of chance. I hate using the term passed away, because that’s not how it feels. there is no calm right now, nothing slipping slowly and silently away. her death itself happened quietly, but it feels violent and jarring and heartbreaking.
my sister moved out of my parents’ house about two weeks before she died, so her absence isn’t something that is felt in every moment. instead, I buy vegan cashew-oat waffles and remember that she never hesitated to taste-test the weird and unconventional recipes I insisted on making. I pull her favorite blue dress over my head and remember how much she loved it. I leave her funeral and my first instinct is to reach for my phone, to commiserate with her about how ridiculous our family is. If I focus hard enough, sometimes I can even hear her voice telling me she loves me. and each time I feel that tug of memory, I take a breath.
[you know what it is.]
several people have pointed out that I haven’t been posting here regularly, and I haven’t been writing much.
the thing is, I’ve started one million posts. and then I’ve deleted them. or I’ve stored them away. sometimes I hurriedly write a few lines into a notepad between subway stops.
even now, as I type this, there’s a very good chance I’ll let it all go when I’m done.
I didn’t decide one day to pause writing. it just happened. I don’t know why, but I do know it’s just a pause.
and you know what it is? I just don’t feel like saying things. I feel like I’m having a tough time properly articulating my thoughts. nothing seems right. often, I get a few lines down and then I realize that I just don’t feel like talking today.
it’s one a.m. on saturday and I’m lying on my back, on a friend’s couch, listening to the rain fall outside and to his breathing down the hall and to the little creaking adjustments houses make.
I feel content. I feel unsettled. I feel lucky. I feel alone. I feel young and old, all at the same time. I feel like there are some things that I want. but then in the next exhale, I can’t figure out what I want at all.
I think this is a moment to work things out in my head. that seems to be just as important as writing it all down.
don’t ask me why I said those things.
you know damn well why.
because you smelled like fresh laundry and soap
because, from the moment I opened my door to find you standing in front of me, my heart hasn’t stopped racing
because your palms were just slightly damp when I held your hand
because of the way your breath mixed with the snowflakes
because I fell into your blue eyes
because I heard your friend tell you she liked me
because I tipped my head back and became lost in the stars as we walked home that night
because my whiskey-laced breath had never been kissed the way you kissed me
and because my hazy, whiskey-dazed brain knew I’d never feel like that again.
and now you want to know why. why I pulled the sheets over our heads and pressed every inch of my skin against every inch of yours, why I whispered about the future into your pillow, why I rested by head on your shoulder, touched my lips to your collarbone as I fell asleep, and told you I never wanted to be any other way ever again.
why did it take us so long to find ourselves here, just like this, together, I asked.
it was never a question. they were never meant to be questions, they were never meant to have answers, and they were never meant for you. they were meant for the night, for the laundry and soap and all the heartbeats we squandered. they were meant for the snowflakes and the stars and the friends and the whiskey we wasted waiting for one another. they were meant for each of our breaths that will brush someone else’s skin forever.
you knew that. you knew we were lucky to have arrived here at all, and we’ll never find ourselves like this again. you knew I wouldn’t mean it in the morning.
you knew I had to say those things, so the night would be just right, exactly the way it was supposed to be.
you know, I think we captured it perfectly.
I miss the skyline already — running along the lake until the end of the pier and turning around to see it all laid out in front of me, the a buffet of picturesque culture, architecture, community.
we made it to pennsylvania. I’m not sure how we choose this state, this place, but we’re here now. it’s something new. the amish here act like the christians in the midwest, so I’m not feeling too lost. we buy their bread and butter and sweets and the men refuse to look at me while the women cast sideways glances at the hem of my dress and comment under their collective breath. still, I love it. we drove with the windows down all day; I sat in the passenger seat and held the pup on my lap. he leaned his head on the windowsill and captured the cool, clean air with his tongue.
is mom mad that I left so abruptly? we decided it would be better to get going sooner rather than later, but please tell her I promise to be home soon and I promise to call home sooner. has she made any progress? is she Mom? has she spoken to you? do you think she hears you? I don’t think she heard me when I told her we were leaving.
I want to tell you everything, but my mind is unfocused today. on the day we left, we stopped at the grocery store on the way out of the city and bought crackers and grapes. we stopped at a farm in indiana, one where it seemed like the cows were wandering freely, and bought the sharpest cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. we fed the cows hay and they let me hold a baby chick. it reminded me of summers with grandma and grandpa on their farm, holding the baby goats in my lap as I fed them their morning bottles.
I love sitting still in the car as we drive along — I’ll sometimes stare up at the clouds and three or four hours will pass and it will have felt like no time at all.
on the first night, we stopped at a motel off the highway, the first we saw. it was well after midnight, and we were exhausted. we choose a motel because we wanted to be able to bring the pup in the room with us, even though I know how unsafe you think motels are. we stayed in bed until noon — mostly because the carpets were damp and the bathroom was cool and the rainy sky was filled with clouds that drenched the parking lot and windows and cars with enormous raindrops. X ran out for donuts while I stayed under the blankets with a book.
we spent the rest of the day driving, and here we are, in pennsylvania. We’re thinking about heading to philadelphia — we heard there’s so much culture and history and beauty there — but we’re enjoying the country for now.
we found a small hotel, well, really a family willing to rent out a spare bedroom. they let us bring the pup inside, as long as he sleeps in his crate and doesn’t bark too much. they have a handful of dogs themselves, and one, a beautiful female, will walk along with me while I explore the fields and forests nearby.
anything within driving distance screams of suburbia so much it hurts — I feel the hairs on my arms rise up and the nerve endings under my skin start to tingle like the static between radio stations — so I’ve convinced X to stay close to the house. we take a backroad to a tiny convenience store and stop at a roadside produce stand along the way. the fruits there seem to be less dull and the proprietors less depressed than those in the city. the vegetables are crisper and greener. we’ve been hoarding these supplies in our tiny room with no refrigerator because I can’t bear to travel to a restaurant. we drag our crackers and bread and cheese and butter and fruits and vegetables out to the porch swing three times a day and sit and eat and contemplate our next direction. maybe we’ll head south. at least we’re doing it together. I suppose that’s enough for me.
I need to go now, dad. please tell mom I love her. make sure she hears you this time — look into her eyes when you say it. please. I miss you and I’ll write soon.
do you remember that night? we stood in the back of the bar, outside, surrounded by concrete that refused to allow a single breeze. sweat trickled down the back of my knees and curled the hair at the nape of my neck. you wore shorts. probably corduroy cut-offs; that’s what everyone was wearing.
do you remember when I sat close by your friends, when I tucked myself between them, clutching my drink, condensation trickling onto my knees and toes. kind and steady, they surrounded me that night — the humid and unforgiving air gave way to a calm as we exchanged our stories under one a.m. stars.
do you remember when they leaned close? do you remember what they said to me? did you hear them tell me all your secrets? everything they knew about you, distilled into a handful of words, spilled into the july heat, pooled beneath our feet.
"watch out for yourself. don’t let him go."
"keep your heart close. don’t give it away too soon. don’t let him go."
"be careful. don’t let him go."
their advice became a series of drumbeats, meant to set me on a path. I never found the path, I never stepped in time, I never let you go. I didn’t have to — you did it first.
"what’s worse is the way you act as though it was somehow your fault, that you deserved it, that you’re not emotionally fragile and that this didn’t kill you."
— a friend. may 2012.
today, I’ve been going through some of my old writing, and I found this sentence.
last may, the night before I left chicago, I sat on a friend’s couch, drinking whiskey and listening to records. he asked me why I’d been so unhappy. I explained, and we talked about what I’d said and what had happened. he ended the conversation with this sentence. a few days later, I wrote it down.
and what was interesting about our conversation was not what I said. I’d said it before to any friend who would listen. I’d said much of it here. the interesting part was how hard it hit, how much breath could be knocked out by one sentence.
what would it mean if the first link we drew from feelings was not to weakness.
sometimes I go back
and listen to your voice
from old recordings.
my heart beats hard against the inside of my ribs
my throat tightens
my lungs press all their air out and refuse to refill
as I place the cassette into the stereo
and let my fingers hover over the buttons
so I can stop you once I can no longer take it.
my heart pumps harder still as the tape begins gliding inside the machine
those few seconds before you begin to speak are loud and empty
and the swell of nothingness is deafening.
on the days when I can make it this far,
by the time I hear your voice, my own ears are ringing,
and I can barely hear anything at all.
your laugh comes first.
you laughed first that day, before you began.
you absentmindedly introduced yourself,
and now my stomach sinks and twists.
your fingers begin to tap out those notes, slowly at first.
the piano’s pedals squeak under your feet
and I’m not sure I can make it much further.
my brain spins and darkens.
my lungs scream for oxygen.
my heart pounds and aches and threatens to burst.
now I’m drowning in the rhythm of your words.
I’m suffocating under the weight of your melody as you sing and of your body as we sleep,
I’m swept out to sea by the lilt of your song and the tilt of your head as you lean down and press your lips against mine.
you’re sweet and smooth and gone
and I’m dying.
before more seconds manage to tick and tick and tick away,
I close my eyes and push the eject button.
I cover my face with my hands.
I close my eyes against the darkness.
I search for the sounds of anything else,
of the wind or the radiator or the creaking hardwood floors,
anything that will fill my bones with something new,
and I forget.
[yoga versus running.]
I haven’t been running in exactly thirty days. exactly. almost to the hour.
the flu was followed so closely behind by more being sick.
at first it was the general malaise and weakness that comes with a fever and a retching cough. later it became a requirement in order for me to become healthy.
by next week, it will be because I know the worst part will be my own frustration, anger, rage that my body is no longer able to do what it once did with relative ease.
thinking about it makes my hands shake.
I’m not ready for that yet. in four weeks, I’ll take the bar exam that I skipped this summer. I’ve been studying like a mad woman, but I worry that I’ll be unprepared. lots of the test takers are also re-takers, so they’ve already seen the test. I have not. they know what to expect on test day. I do not. what if I’m studying the wrong things. or studying in the wrong ways. they aren’t even questions anymore, just statements.
this is arguably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, ever.
and I just can’t add to these days and nights of studying the disappointment that I know will accompany the disconnect between the way my mind expects me to run and the way my body actually runs.
I think I’ll save that for another day. maybe february 28th will be a good day.
in the meantime, and from the beginning, I’ve had yoga.
one hour a day.
and when I think about what I could be doing and compare that with what I am doing, the differences between the two catch my breath. every single day.
one stresses discarding problems outside the studio, the other becomes a silent conversation during which I systematically solve my problems while my feet move swift and silent along the pavement.
when I run, every step is filled with a thought, a question. my mind replays conversations, sorts through scenes from my weekend, remembers, ponders, sings along to the music. I can lose myself and let miles pass unnoticed.
when I’m in yoga class, I actively seek to clear from my mind the distractions of my day. focus on my body in each moment. the heat that builds in my legs, the shaking in my arms as I reach farther and straighter and higher and longer, the sweat that trickles along my forehead and leaves tiny damp spots across the mat.
when I leave yoga, my body feels somehow both weaker and stronger. when I arrive home from a good run, my body feels at peace and exhausted.
yoga and running are physically demanding in different ways. yoga builds muscles, running builds stamina. yoga requires you to stand still and allow your body to burn. hold your body up. use your muscles. and breathe. running requires the collaboration of your lungs, which are just plain out of your control.
I find yoga to be much easier, despite the soreness that sinks into my shoulders, hips, thighs, biceps, torso when I skip a few days. I’m easier on myself in yoga class. if I can’t fully articulate a pose, I push myself to the absolute limit, remind myself that I will be better tomorrow, and breathe. and I am better tomorrow. success is so visible.
when I run, I rage that I’m not better. my expectation for more has brought me to tears right out on the public sidewalk. ability increases at such an imperceptible rate, that it’s easy to wonder whether any of your effort will ever seem worthwhile.
I love both. I should do both. I will. just not today.
for today, I focus on lengthening and strengthening my muscles, because I know they’ll support me when I return. I practice dampening the internal dialogue, focusing on form and structure, hoping a renewed and revised attitude will allow for a smooth transition.
today I’ll stick with yoga. tomorrow I’ll run.
[aren’t we too young for this?]
it’s such a silly question, we’ve already had so many life-changing, age-inappropriate experiences.
losing parents. that wasn’t supposed to happen. we were too young.
losing friends. that wasn’t supposed to happen. they were too young.
but it really hit me when a friend (whose wedding I attended late last september) called to say he was thinking of getting a divorce.
I felt a wave of familiarity; just eighteen months ago, lying under a full moon, wet hair and wet clothes spread across the grass, I listened as a friend tearfully confessed that she married too young, that she needed to get out, that she needed help.
the best I could offer then was a couch and a space free from judgment. now, I’m responsible for advising the parties of their rights. of optimum choices. now I’m picking sides. now we’re picking sides. we’re responsible for every decision.
and this struck a different chord. something about institutional memory. watching a relationship from it’s first moments.
and it knocked me down that we had to spend days and nights and weeks on the phone talking about the pros and cons, when he called from outside an attorney’s office to ask if he was doing the right thing, when he texted me that he was scared of being alone forever.
my beautiful, perfect, strong, fierce friend filled with fear.
we’re not supposed to be prepared for this.
but our decisions now are of the make-or-break variety.
we’ve been kicked and shoved and we stood back up and kept going. but every once in a while, don’t you just wonder, aren’t we too young for all this?
oh january, I’m ready for you to go.
january began beautifully. filled with lovely holiday memories, new year celebrations, renewal.
january has become so melancholy, though, and I’m ready for a new month. I’m ready to try again.
the flu hit us all a few weeks ago. tired and uncomfortable. and just as quickly as it came and went, something new knocked me down.
no vigorous activity for at least four weeks. doctor’s orders. I eased into yoga classes — the body needs to move. still, no movements too quick, for now, you are breakable.
then I was suddenly shoved down again. I’ve spent the last six days moving between bed and work and bed.
I was so excited that this weekend might finally be the turning point. I made plans, agreed to attend birthday parties, yoga classes (still no running), movies, brunch. instead, I stayed awake long enough to eat breakfast, before crashing.
I’m spinning in two directions. my mind is restless and bored. my body is fighting me. constantly exhausted, fragile, hurting.
this will end soon. but I am unaccustomed to this sedentary, delicate lifestyle. I don’t normally sleep so many hours. every single night.
oh my. february, I can’t wait to see you.
I saw you against last night,
now it’s been twice already this week.
as soon as my eyelids fluttered
closed, there you were,
unsuccessfully attempting to suppress the grin that was wrinkling the corners of your eyes.
and you pressed your palm into the spot just above my knee
and you pressed your lips into my cheek
and you laughed as you pointed out that we were the only ones wearing pink.
I looked over your pink oxford shirt
as you leaned so close it blended into my pink cotton dress
and I smiled
because we didn’t plan it this way
because I don’t even like pink
because somewhere in its depths, my mind was pressing the edges flat as a reminder that this tiny moment is merely a dream.
and when I awoke, again,
I wondered how often you find yourself here
across a table
at a seat adjacent to mine at a bar
brushing fingertips as we pass on the street
how often do you stand, walk around the table, and lean down to whisper into my ear?
how often do you push your arm across the inches along the bartop that separate you from me, until only the pointiest bones in each of our elbows touch?
how often do you call out my name, catch the crook of my arm in your hand, all to ask how I’ve been?
how often do you wake up, squeeze your eyes closed quickly, exhale deeply under the crush of disappointment at all this destruction, and wish it all could be any other way?