Thursday, May 18, 2017


This piece is almost four years old, but it feels appropriate to share today. All these years later, I still feel waves of grief from the losses I experienced in my 30s. Lately, I often feel like I'm on the precipice of something I can't put my finger on. Sort of like that feeling you have when you see something move out of the corner of your eye. You glance over, startled but intrigued, trying to figure out if your brain is playing tricks on you, or if you are finally able to communicate with the spirit realm and a ghost has come to visit. Just me? Okay. 

The feeling of being on the verge of Figuring Everything Out™ but never quiiiite getting there could be a kind of mid-life crisis. It might just be frustration at where I am in life and where I thought I would be at this point. When I am most discombobulated, I try to remember a scene from Boys on the Side that impacted me so many years ago. One of the main characters is having a health crisis and, in a moment of anguish, cries out, "I don't know where to go. I don't have any place to go. I don't know anyplace." In response, her friend says, "Sometimes, if you don't have any place to go, it's probably a good idea to stay where you are." 

So I'm holding still. 


"Maybe Tomorrow" by Stereophonics plays on repeat

I want to write about loss. About pain and death and fear and how much I miss my grandfather. We lost him in 2004 and I just... I keep finding myself tangled up in grief. I can almost not fathom that it's been nine years, that next year will mark a milestone, an "anniversary," that I am perhaps more torn up now than I was when he passed. I was working as a secretary at my alma mater and still remember my mother calling to let me know he was gone. He had passed in his sleep after going to bed early, not feeling well after dinner or something equally innocuous.

Poof. Just gone. The proverbial candle snuffed out. No goodbye, no drawn-out illness to give us, in a terrible and inevitable sense, time to prepare. A light unceremoniously snapped off on the way to bed. A shower curtain's last drop of water quietly drying in the late morning.

I remember my father sobbing at the funeral, as one would imagine he would. I remember my brother rubbing Dad's back. I was 31, closing in on 32. My brother would turn 30 later that year. As I inch closer to 40, some 10 weeks to go before I finally shut the door on my 30s, I feel my age crashing in on me. I was reminded on the daily of my age at my last job, where many of my coworkers were in their early 20s. They'd laugh through drinking stories and how they were surviving at work on only a couple hours of sleep after being out half the night raging, dancing, wearing sunglasses in dark clubs and throwing back shots with strangers. They'd toss about dates that meant something to me -- 1987, 1991 -- but in different ways. While they were newborns, I was already in high school or graduating from high school and getting ready to enter college. That I was working at the same level with people I could've babysat, people my teenage self could've given birth to, never made any sense. More than seven months after I left the company, flowers continue to open and reveal their secrets. Bloom. How uncomfortable I was working there. How unhappy. Bloom. How much I lied to myself that I was in the right place because I was being paid to write. But there were so many days when I would have to force myself to smile -- or at least not glower -- as I walked into the building, knowing all the management types who were inexplicably in their offices by 7:00 a.m. could see me, knowing the freakishly perky HR rep would bounce by my desk and want to know why I wasn't an explosion of joy and rainbows.

In the big worldview -- the view of that job from the Space Shuttle, if you will -- the job meant very little. It's one of those things that won't matter in five years. My tenure there fit like a suit I'd outgrown before leaving the store. My mom thought the company would be out of business in a matter of months, given their business model. Friends told me during and after my employment that they thought the company was shady. Though I've lost the stability of a biweekly paycheck, I have gained the relief that I don't have to lie anymore. I don't have to exhibit false enthusiasm in person or on social media about how lucky I am, how great the company is, and how much !FUN! we have. Beneath all those falsehoods was the knowledge that I wasn't doing the best job of surviving on what they paid, that their preference of quantity over quality was killing me, that I knew, if only subliminally, it was all coming to an end and there was little I could do before the meteor tore a hole in the Earth's crust. Bloom and fade.

It feels like my 30s have only been about loss. Maybe it's what had to happen, but it just seems like the layers keep coming off and I wonder when I'll reach my barest self and be able to rebuild. My last two grandparents passed. Two of my favorite former bosses passed. Two of the very few women I have dated passed. I lost two jobs and with each, my income, sense of self, ability to be truly independent. I ate to cope and as I gained weight, I began losing my mobility in small ways. I began to hear excuses spill off my tongue about why I was out of breath or why I didn't want to go somewhere, knowing what the other person didn't: I wasn't going to fit in the seats, for instance, or I knew there would be too many stairs to climb. I lost a great therapist when she moved out of state. I lost an apartment with a beautiful accent wall and a relaxing view of a man-made lake when I gave it all up to move downtown, where I have now lost flecks of my sanity.

I understand -- very clearly understand, however -- that this is where I am supposed to be, that I am in a situation of my own choosing. If you want to get religious or spiritual about it, I know that God/dess has not given me more than I can handle. But I also know that I have lived through dark nights I cannot tell anyone -- anyone -- about. That I have had to walk away from friendships that were no longer right for me. That this apartment, despite filling it with burning sage and meditative chants, bears all the negative energy that has poured out of me since I first got laid off in 2009. It is here where I have filled out unemployment claims, put faith and hope into job applications only to be rejected time and again for opportunities that I thought I was tailor-made to fill.

I know and have known for months and even years that it's time to exfoliate this dusty skin and will away the circles that plague my tired eyes. I look at the weight I carry, the refuse that needs to be tossed away, the stacks of all that I surround myself with. I know I have collected these things because I cannot bear to lose one more thing, regardless of whether or not that loss is actually beneficial. The great artistic forest fairy who will help make it possible for me to live as a writer and painter is off having a smoke break while I finish scraping through these last weeks of being a 30-something. She's waiting patiently while I figure it all out, understand what I need to do to get energy moving in the right direction. She helps me see more clearly, helps me understand that dark nights often beget bright mornings, that I have rediscovered my art and my self in the absence of the daily grind that was slowly killing me. I am in the fire, feeling the sear instead of moving through the burn, closing in on the next great chapter and finishing up the paperwork on a lot of inevitable hurts. 

Whether claimed by old age, sickness, or accident, the deaths of my family and friends was inevitable. The economy tanked and with it went my stronghold on security. If there is a great golden outline of all the things I was destined to learn during this decade, we must surely be near the end of the list. I have learned how to survive on less and with fewer people in my support ranks. I have slashed and burned where perhaps I should have been more patient. I learned that I have, in some ways, painted myself into a corner, but I can't be afraid to dirty my bare feet in pigment while I run for the spigot. I can find my way back to freedom and laugh at the footprints I leave behind, the signs that I was here, once trapped and feeling helpless but now free to move on, explore, start anew with fresh breath in my lungs and a fuller arsenal for battle.

Maybe tomorrow... I'll find my way home.

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