Angry and bald

I rode the subway to work this morning, 13 stops. It’s Saturday. A man got on my car, screaming about how big his dick was. He kept saying “fuck all of you. My balls are king kong’s balls. I’ll kill every one of you. I’m going to fucking kill you.” At the next stop, I switched cars. At the next stop, so did he. He kept screaming. He kept threatening me and the other passengers with physical and sexual violence. I changed cars again. So did he. I ran multiple cars away. The train tried to leave without me. I jammed my arm in the door and waited seconds for the conductor to open the doors. I rode a few more stops without the man. When I got off at my stop, I looked behind me every five steps, hoping he wasn’t following me.

Part of being a woman is being threatened. We are not surprised by threat. I am not surprised when someone threatens to rape me in public, the same way I’m not surprised when I walk by a man in the street and he looks me up and down and imagines me naked, prone, at his mercy.

I dated older men when I was young. Pedophiles. I thought they liked me for my personality. Maybe that’s true; maybe the innocence everywhere was compelling. One was 45 to my 19. He told quoted Keats to me, “beauty is truth.” That meant “I only date models.” I was thin because I subsisted on Coors Light, cigarettes, and buttered bagels. I was a nervous wreck, a full-blown alcoholic, a timid, natty animal, thirsty for anything. He tried to convince me to quit my retail job where I made $9.25 an hour and become a cocktail waitress at a club in the meatpacking district. He brought me to an expensive restaurant with another friend, a short Indian man who owned an airline, a millionaire. He looked at me skeptically when I inhaled the entire bread basket. I was hungry, and he wasn’t used to seeing women eat.

This is the year for women and feminism. It’s really easy to buy a T shirt now, announcing your activism. We elected a rapist to the presidency of the United States.

I’ve been hiding from news and social media for a year. The daily anxieties are crippling. A woman is raped every 4 or 5 seconds. The fact of Harvey Weinstein. The fact of Bill Cosby. Matt Damon opening his mouth.

Opening Instagram is a bitter pill. Women with 40,000 followers hocking diet shakes for flat bellies. People curating their lives with zeal and vigor. Impossibly happy, cooking things from scratch, going on vacation, loving their husbands or boyfriends without resentment. Women getting pregnant. Kardashians. Artists more successful than you. Everyone is doing so well. Otherwise it’s something about wine, which is called “mommy juice.” Another hilarious take on the daily urgency for global novocaine.

I heard a man tell a rape joke in an alcoholic recovery meeting once. I heard another white man talk about how, at his lowest moment, he was indistinguishable from a black man. There is no such thing as a safe space.

We are all implicit in the American Disaster. The idea that this country was built on the premise of freedom is a decrepit, insulting lie. It was built on the oppression, slaughter and rape of anyone who was not white or, to a lesser degree, male.

We congratulated ourselves when we elected Obama. Then we chose Donald Trump over a woman. My Apple news app shifts from Trump’s latest tweet, the threat of impending nuclear war, to a tantalizing teaser of a headline- do I want to know how Chrissy Teigen looks, newly pregnant AND in a bikini? This is our world. We all might burn to hell today, Dante’s blazing inferno, but Donald has a longer, fatter dick than Kim Jong-un, which could better satisfy a woman. And just in case today is not the day an atom bomb floats like a feather into the heart of Times Square, try to make more recipes your husband enjoys. Try not to get fat while you’re pregnant.

The guy on the train this morning won’t stop me from taking the train again tomorrow. I will get up and go to work. I’ll try not to think about the man who showed me his gun five years ago, or the one who, twenty years ago, showed me his Donald Trump.

I shaved my head when I got home tonight. My husband took a picture and said, “you look angry.”

I am angry. Angry and bald.

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The honey heavy dew of slumber

For Cathy

I went to a meeting this morning, and because I was told to do this when I woke up at 29 years old suddenly sober, naked and terrified, I shared: I am in pain.

As it were, I’m not the only one. 

Living a sober life can be like sinking to the bottom of the ocean, a black, unknowable, blind pit, in a one-woman submarine, only there’s no release valve for the air pressure, so you go up and down in the water, you can’t see a thing besides what the dinky lamp attached to your craft shoots out, miserable and too small a light, and the pressure just builds. You want to open a window but it’d kill you. Gin is the window. 

So what you’re supposed to do is get on your knees and say, please god release this pressure so I can go help the next one-woman submarine who looks like she’s 5 minutes away from drinking the window. Or you meditate and learn to quietly tolerate the sensation of drowning. Lighten up, as they say.

And if you learn to stop obsessing over the fact that you’re alone in a tiny tin can in huge, unknowable, dark ocean, if you can shut up for long enough about how we’re all dying down here, maybe you notice a fish. Maybe it’s an ugly fish, and you curse at it’s weird lips like two stacked lumbar support pillows and it’s eyes which, due to bad placement (who invented these things?) can only see you with one eye at a time. Fuckface. It swims away and now there’s nothing but plankton, little flakes of white cascading in whirls and whooshes, directed by some kind of physics, I’m sure.

Another fish, less beautiful than the first.

And then you think, fuck, how can you guys stand it down here? This is terrible. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s boring. The pressure is killing me. An ear pops.

More fish. A school! Numerous slimy silver bullets. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a Coors Light.

The way the light catches them, the little flares like stars on a space highway, it’s not bad. Groovy sci-fi stuff. A moment of grace punctures how sorry your feel for yourself, because suddenly: you’re there, you’re noticing what’s right in front of you, some mundane thing, numerous and circular and bigger than you. 

So you stare out your window and watch them move. After a minute they swim away again, and everything goes dark outside your one woman submarine. For this instant, you’re not so angry. The pain dissolves. Like everything else, it’s fleeting.

You glance down and notice a button. It says SURFACE.

It was always right there in front of you. 

You press it. Up you float.

You remember that you know how to swim. You move towards the light. 

There’s a prayer: It is in self-forgetting that one finds. You die all day to understand what it is to be alive. 

Lucky for us, nothing is solid. Not death, life, feeling, memory, truth, gin, fish, ocean, air. 

For my dear friend who is dying: thank you for showing me the SURFACE. Thank you for helping me find the light.

Bless This Mess

There’s something wrong with me. Lungs on fire, acid stomach, twelves hours of sharp, jutting pains through my midsection that came and went. I went to the doctor after a quarter of a yogurt made my esophagus light up like a Duraflame. He called for a nurse to be present while he dug his fingers into my midsection: Where does it hurt you, baby?

Maybe an ulcer. I bought $80 worth of prescription drugs at Walgreens on 23rd street and went back to work.

My colleagues asked me how it went. Their eyes clapped shut and opened wide in disbelief when I told them what it might be. How old are you? None of them have children.

The days are so long now. I used to have time to breathe. I remember when weekends were for recovery, when rest was possible, when sleep was more than the gulp of air needed to dive back underwater for another 15 hours. When I find little pockets of space now, a few minutes on the train where I’m not answering emails, half an hour after my daughter finally falls asleep before my face hits the side of the pillow with a splat, I am numb. I play Candy Crush. I have nothing left.

Feeling Things is not my forte. Feelings are messy, uncooked. I’m a planner, an organizer, a doer. I will acknowledge them only when they press me, or are not my fault. They get hurt and I will ask for your repentance. There now, it’s been handled. Keep swallowing.

Feelings have a way of rising up. They do not appreciate being ignored. I drank them down. When that stopped working, I spent hundreds of hours stroking and fondling them in recovery. I opened the door and let them in. I decided we could all live in this body. They settled in, despite hating the furniture.

Now, I’m a mother. There isn’t time.

I leave for work at the crack of dawn, before the sun or my daughter is awake. I walk the dog in the pitch dark freezing night. I pick his steaming shit up with a black plastic bag and feel it warm my hand. I sit on the commuter train with business men in suits with mouths like parentheses who skim quickly through the Wall Street Journal so they can watch Family Guy on their iPads. They wear wedding rings and don’t smell like anything.

At work, I think about cancer. One guy has six kinds of cancer and half an arm. He is not old. My heart breaks open. My brain says, “You are going to die, too.”

There is nothing I want to do more than this work. To keep the anxiety at bay, I walk to the water machine and push the button. Cucumber seltzer. It’s a good prize.

I leave a meeting early and hustle to daycare to pick up Lucy. She doesn’t want to leave. I bribe her into the car with a two-pack of Saltines. At home, she throws a tantrum when I put her down, pick her up, give her milk in the wrong plastic cup. I offer TV and she is happy. She doesn’t want dinner. I microwave something. I eat it out of the plastic tub on the couch while Lucy sits engrossed in cartoon mermen. I love her so much in this moment, where she is happy and my attention is not required.

I try to read her books but she’s impatient. We look for everything in her room that’s yellow. She wants banana, a yogurt, sweet things. She refuses pajamas. She smells like pee. I bribe her to change her diaper. Once the lights are out, she clings to me with force, won’t let me put her down. I sing Baby Beluga over and over again in the dark. When she’s almost asleep, she shoots up, realizing how I’ve tricked her eyelids into heaviness. She shouts for Dada, who is more fun. I leave, and they throw all the monsters out of the bed.

My bedtime routine is 5 things, and I hate them. I do them anyway, and crawl into bed. I play more Candy Crush. I look at Instagram. Women are wearing bikinis and cooking beef short ribs from scratch. I compare myself to them. I click the lamp to black and let a podcast lull me to sleep, filling my brain with someone else’s story.

I take it back. I feel constantly. I feel guilt and shame about not spending time with my kid, and then guilt and shame about being so tired that when I do see her, I want to check out. I am sleepwalking through a room full of people shouting, “Wake up! You asked for this!”

I did. I want all of these things. I love Lucy, how she puts all of the monkey things together in one pile, how she grits her teeth for the camera, thinking that’s what a smile is. I love my job more than any work I’ve ever done before. I love the man with 6 types of cancer and half an arm and I want his suffering to mean something in the larger context of research and fighting and fixing and curing.

Here it is, everything you asked for. Job, daughter, husband, house. Meaning.

I love it. Please don’t take it away. Just tell me: how do I not self-destruct?

I took the day off today, my first day off. I didn’t need to. I feel okay. I am not shitting blood.

I’m reading. I’m lying in bed in a sweatsuit listening to Arvo Part with my dumb cats, feeling stuff. I’m moisturizing. I’m waiting for this aromatherapy diffuser I ordered to be delivered from Amazon. I haven’t decided yet which smell to experience first.

I think they call this a mental health day.

Tomorrow I’ll commute into the city for an endoscopy. An invasive medical cherry on the proverbial cupcake. As a former drunk, I am not not looking forward to the procedure’s required black-out. Sounds like rest, to me.

Bless this mess. Good things are rarely easy.

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via @taprootdoula

Bad, Bad Clam

Kyle and I decided to ring in the New Year with an early bird trip to a local restaurant we’ve been dying to try. My deep fried brussel sprouts with parmesean, chili honey, and Rice Krispies and thin crust margherita pizza were surprisingly delicious (the former) and totally satisfying (the latter). Kyle, on the other hand, opted for the wood-fired oysters and clam pie. He spent the rest of New Years Eve glued to the toilet bowl, with intermittent bouts of shivering under multiple fleece blankets in bed, moaning. The man got a bad, bad clam.

Needless to say, it was not the New Years Eve either of us expected. While Kyle slept last night, I spent the majority of it in a long haze of pregnancy-induced insomnia, cruising Instagram for pictures of drunk friends at cool parties and testing different settings on my noise machine app while waiting for my Candy Crush lives to refill.

We took on a lot in the last year. In December of 2013, we closed on our first home. We moved to new town, a new county, where we didn’t know anybody. We adopted a weird and wonderful adult dog from a shelter, named Donald. We decided to have a baby, and I got pregnant. I changed jobs and stopped commuting into New York every day, effectively cutting me off in an immediate way from everything I’d built for the last 13 years (community, friendships, sense of place and identity).

So here we are, New Years Day: Kyle in a puddle under a mass of blankets trying to keep down water while reading subreddits, me massively pregnant (still waiting for my Candy Crush lives to refill), Donald shedding all over the bed, the cats actively trying to attain linebacker body mass index by returning to their food bowl every 14 seconds to see if anything new has appeared. And then there’s the little goose I’ve been carrying around, who I think about day and night, who I already love more than I’ve ever loved anything, even though we still haven’t officially met.

It’s been a really crazy year.

Even though all of these things seem so predictable (deciding it’s time to “grow up,” moving to the suburbs, getting pregnant), they feel enormous, unprecedented, and scary. It’s hard to live one way for a decade and then throw it all up in the air and start over. It’s also incredibly exciting, rewarding, and liberating.

We had a lot of fun this year, not despite, but because of the growing pains. My relationship with my husband has never been stronger or better. Having all this time and space around us has allowed us so much new creative freedom. Kyle learned how to build bookshelves and closets and wire things. I’ve learned to sit still (sort of) and relax and weave bowls or glue pompoms to various objects. This new kind of work is deeply rewarding and satisfying. It’s much harder to be creative in New York, where everybody lives on top of each other, physically and emotionally, and you quickly become buried under social obligations.

There are so many things I want for the next year. I want to learn to be a good mother and stay a good partner. I want to continue to build my little house into a sanctuary, so it feels like a full-sized blanket fort with rooms and a working kitchen. I want to stop doing things that make me unhappy.

What I’ve learned about wanting these things is that they’re too big to ask for. Instead, I need to ask for some time each day to sit and create something, a little bit of stillness, a sandwich, a glass of water.

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My best friend Kate wrote this in 2010, and it sums up everything I feel about growing up.

I was in the steam room and I sat still in there for a long time. I sat still waiting for the physical stillness to empty my mind. My mind was loud, was screaming, just now: “What the fuck is going on!!! Everything is out of control!!! Your life is out of control!!!”

I laid there for a long time. Then I stood up. As I walked out, I blacked out for at least three seconds, still on my feet. I kept so calm in a way. I told myself: No worries. Your brain is going to sleep but your feet will remain standing. Hold on just a second –

Really: everything is fine. Everything is full of wonder. I just want you to be happy, that’s it. I want you to happy so that you can help other people be happy. But you have to be happy first. You have to be nice to yourself before you are nice to everyone else.

The real truth is that I haven’t spent enough time being quiet today.

Mary Karr wrote a great poem about this, too, The Voice of God (excerpt below):

The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

In 2015, with so much more growing on the horizon, I hope I can remember to be quiet, take a moment, get some sleep, be grateful, ask for help, and eat something (not clams). The broken stuff will heal on its own. It’s been a beautiful year.