Answers

Where do we go from here?

What do I do?

What comes next?

Who am I?

Where do I go?

As the cap to a 2015 that seems to have been engineered to kick my ass, I lost my job.  So, for those of you keeping a running tally of the last 2 years we have.

1 Minor Health Crisis

6 deaths

3 job losses

1 house sold

2 cars died

1 car purchased

1 pair of terrible neighbors.

I am paralyzed with indecision now.  I have no idea what to do next.  I’ve always had a plan…and I don’t have plan any more.  I did a job for 4 years.  A job I loved.  But now its gone.  And I don’t know if I should keep it up or do something else.  I don’t know where to go and what to do next.

I went back to bed last night and just laid there, face down in the pillow, mumbling to my husband who said “Look, I could say something faintly comforting right now, but I don’t actually think that would help, so look at how comfy the dog looks.”

The dog, to be fair, DID look really comfy.  I was kind of jealous of him, curled up in the ends and bits of blankets he’d turned around 15 times in so they were smushed just perfectly.

I’ve gone through the motions of what I should do.  I celebrated Christmas.  I threw a New Years Eve party.  There were brief, glittery moments of feeling like “me” in all of those times.

But what do you do when you feel like you’re going up a cliff and the rocks you grip to keep moving and sliding beneath you?  What do you do when the books that comforted you, just don’t any more.  What do you do when you have every streaming service known to man and there’s just no where to hide from yourself any more?

Right now?

Go outside.

Get rid of bags of old clothes.

Organize a kitchen cabinet.

Grab a coffee.

Find a different book and try again.

Snuggle with the dog.

Make a pot roast.

Try again.

Because, even if you don’t know where to go, the earth beneath you still spins and times moves ever forward.  I don’t know where I’m going, but at least I know where I’ve been.  The world never lets you stand still.

-C

Connections

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen (Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life)

I’ve talked about how I’ve pulled away from my friends.

I’ve been a crappy friend.

Mostly, because its hard to be a good friend when you’re afraid to leave the house.

But I feel like I want to try again…at least a little…

Typically, once I hit fall, I feel open, like its as new school year, new possibilities, a brand new me.

This fall…I feel much like I want it to be a funeral.  The funeral of an enemy, who did terrible things and had a death much deserved.  I want to delivery a eulogy to the summer that betrayed me.  That instead of fun in the sun, was hidden torment and hidden pain.

Fall.  Fall means that this terrible summer will die.  That I can box up all the terrible parts of it and bury it deep in the ground.

I’m toying with coming up with some kind of ritual to say goodbye to that part of summer.  It may or may not involve fire.  I find fire very cleansing.

Its what I need to say “This is over.”

I think I’ll wait til the sale of our house is finally full.  Then take part of a packing box and packing paper.  Take the newspaper article with the picture of our destroyed, stolen vehicle.  Take photocopies of unemployment checks and print outs of broken hearted emails.  Pour some bourbon on it.  Add a cupcake that I didn’t eat while hiding under the table.  And burn it.  And stomp on the ashes.

I’m so ready for it to be done and over.  So ready to start whatever this next part of my life IS.  Ready to not be afraid any more.

Ready for Thanksgiving and finding reasons to be thankful.  Ready for Christmas and carols and mistletoe.

Ready for New Years and new beginnings.

Ready to be ME again.

Ready to be strong and confident.

But its not time yet, and I am impatient.  I am impatient as the flower waiting for spring.  As impatient as the geese, flying north or south at their appointed time.  I know where I am supposed to be.

But its not time yet.

-C

Fear the Seventh: What If…

Fear, itself…

When I was little, one of the things we got in school was a little book called the “What If” book.  The idea was, it had answers to questions “What if I got lost in the mall?” “What if I fall and no one is around to help me?” Basic questions small children might have in situations they are unfamiliar with and simple answers that would make it easy for them to understand what to do in a scary or dangerous situations.  The book was there to help you, to give you answers.

Instead, what the book gave me, was questions.

What if your mom accidentally leaves you behind?

My mom wouldn’t leave me behind…but what if she did?  I’d never thought about it before.

What if another grown-up you don’t know tries to get you to go with them?

 Why would another grown-up want to take me somewhere?  Is that kidnapping?

What if some comes into your school and starts yelling and scares you         ?

What if, what if, what if…I would read that book at night and quietly scare myself today with scenarios I’d never thought of, helpfully printed for me in friendly pink, blue, and yellow.  Suddenly, I’d found dangers.  This book was supposed to comfort me with questions I had.

Except, until I read the book…I hadn’t had those questions.

I hadn’t know that, out there, there was something to fear.  And then I did.  It was still unknown…it was still scary…and now….it had faces…strangers…being left behind of lost…hurt…and the friendly book had advice like “Waiting for help to arrive.”  or “Go get an adult and tell them.”  But see, the book had already contradicted itself because there might not BE an adult.

That was scariest of all.

Now I’m an adult.  And what scares me most?  The unknown.  Not knowing what to do.  The bigger what ifs.  Living your life in fear, is no way to live.  Its terrible and stressful.

And that’s how I’d been living the last few months.  Fear of losing people I loved.  Fear of death.  Fear of change.  Fear of everything.  I just cannot live like that any more.  Its like life had turned into a giant “What If” book and everywhere I turned where questions with no answers.  What if this relationship fails?  What if I can’t afford to pay a bill?  What if the dog doesn’t get better?  What if my grandmother’s memory gets worse?  What if my parents health suffers?  What if my friends don’t want me around any more? What if I can’t get this big project done at work? What if I lose faith? What if I just can’t DO all of this any more.

And there is no little book of answers in friendly pink text.

There is no finding an adult.

Because the dirty secret.  Everyone’s fear.  We’re the adults now.

We don’t have the answers.

We all have these What If’s running around in our heads.

And after a long and dark month of the deepest depression I’ve ever felt I said.

So what?

So freakin’ what.

If a relationship fails.  You make new ones.

You can’t afford to pay a bill? Get an extension and plan better next time.

The dog’s sick? Take him to the vet.

Grandmother’s memory gets worse? Help her however you can and pray.

Parent’s health suffering? Try to make things easier for them.

Friend trouble?  Start by being a good friend.  The rest will fall into place.

Trouble on a work project?  Get help.  People will help you.

Losing faith? Go back to its source.  Go to other sources.  Write and talk about it.  You’ll find it again.

Want to give up?

Don’t.

Take a breath.  And let the fears, let the what if’s run themselves ragged.  Because you’re better than that.  Find little joys in pictures you take and books you read.  Love the people around you more and better.  Be an example.  Smile, even if you feel like you can’t.  Eventually, it’ll feel the way its supposed to.

Be scared.  But don’t let it control you.  Ask the questions, but if you don’t like the answer?  Find new answers.

Make the unknown, known.  Because the shapes and shadows are only scary in the dark…once you shed light on them, you’ll see it was nothing to worry about at all.

This is the end of October.  The fears are gone.  In November, let’s bring in the light.

-C

Fear the Sixth: Moving On

Call the police and call the press
But please, dear God, don’t tell my friends
This is where it ends

-This is Where It Ends, The Barenaked Ladies

Right when I graduated from college, I decided I would not move back into my parent’s house, but I would stay with my oma, in the city where I graduated.  The boyfriend I had at the time being in the same city may have had something to do with it, but also, so did the idea that the smaller city where I was from had nothing to offer me.  I knew if I moved back, I’d never leave.  So I decided to stay here, where there was more opportunity.

The first job I got was working as a receptionist.  As first jobs go, not bad, I was able to memorize lines for the shows I was in while I was working on filing.  But it was hard to start a job, the beginning of summer, right after graduating.  Quickly, I despaired at the lack of vacation I had, the hours I had to work, and missing my friends and family.

This all came to a head one day when I was sitting at my desk, and my dad had stopped by to take me to lunch.

My dad works a unique schedule as a minister, and often, during the summer, he would take my brother and I on “adventures.”  We’d drive to nearby cities and check out stores and grab lunch.  And it was always “going on an adventure.”

After lunch that day, I sat down at my desk, pulled out the invoices I was to work with, and the thought suddenly came to me “You’re not going on adventures any more.”

My own graduation didn’t really bother me, I didn’t get choked up or cry.  But the thought that, there would be no more summer adventures on a moment’s notice…there would be no more random trips to the bookstore and getting out of town.

It was an awful realization to see, so clearly, the end of childhood.  I had a job.  I had phones to answer.  I was wearing professional clothes and writing ’06 on a stack of invoices while women gossiped around me.  Something had happened that I didn’t even know I was afraid of.  I’d never been afraid of moving on, because I’d always been moving toward something.

Now I’d moved on.  And I didn’t know where I was, where I was going, what my goal was.  And I couldn’t even escape with my dad to go figure it out.  I felt I’d moved past where I’d been too fast and I was simultaneously stuck in a place I didn’t want to be.

I now have a job that I love…I don’t feel so stifled and stuck any more..  But sometimes…sometimes I just want to be able to say “You know what?  I’m done with today.  Let’s go.”

Any time you move on…it hurts.  You’re probably moving on to something bigger and better.  But it still hurts to leave those moments behind.  Or to be left behind with them.  So I fear moving on when I’m not ready, being moved on from, and moving on to something…I don’t yet know.

-C

Fear the Fifth: SURPRISE!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

-Me, age 8-15

When I was growing up, my brother discovered is favorite way to freak me out was to jump out and surprise me. To this day, I hate jump scares, can’t handle horror movies, and am a general scaredy cat.

Thanks.

In the house we grew up in, our basement stairs ended with a landing that, if you turned to the left, you entered the finished part of the basement, and if you turned to the right, there was a small piece of wall that was JUST big enough for a little brother to hide behind.

And the light switch for the basement had a terrible habit of sometimes working…and sometimes not.

So I’d run down the stairs and I’d hit the landing and he’d jump up at me, I’d scream, and he’d be thrilled.

He’s a jerk.

Most little brothers are.

Oddly enough, though, I really like good surprises, presents especially.  If I get a great surprise, I’m a happy camper.

Moral of the story: The opposite side of what you fear may also be something you love.

-C

Fear the Fourth: Regret

“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”
— Haruki Murakami

“Is there anything special of Oma’s that you would want?”

“What?  Oh…”  I’m on the phone with my mom.  We’re discussing my Oma, her mother, who is recently in declining health.  She’s losing bits of her memory and we’re at the end of the time where she can live alone any more.  My mom has been staying with her, part time, and helping her put together paperwork.  They’ve just finished with the lawyer today, working on ironing out the will. “Well, some of her dirndl schmuck, I think…I know its not worth anything….”

“She has one with pink stones, actually…anything else” my mom asks.  I’m sure she’s making a list of some kind.  The woman has more lists of anyone I know, on the backs of envelopes and receipts she’s entered into the checkbook.

“Well, there’s the figurines on the sideboard…the”

“The Gossiping Girls, sure, your dad and I got them for Mom and Dad.”

“Yeah, I like those.”

My mom pauses.  “I’d like the portrait of Stanley’s Mother in the hallway.  I always thought the story behind it was so romantic.”

I know the painting she’s talking about.  I had no idea it had a name.

Stanley's Mother

Stanley’s Mother

“What’s the story about Stanley’s Mother?”

My mom seems surprised, sure she’s told me before.  I enjoy strange family stories, so I’m surprised I don’t know this one.

“Well, when we lived in the old house, the duplex, right after I was born, on 26th Street, we were in the lower level of a duplex.  Upstairs, lived Hildegard. She was an art teacher.

Her apartment was small, just a sitting room, kitchen, and a bedroom, though I never saw it.  She was very pretty, in a Ingrid Bergman, old hollywood kind of way.

One day, Hildegard met Stanley.  I remember them spending time together.  The first I knew of her, Stanley had come to pick her up for a date and they went out into the country and stopped at a field.

Hildegard thought the field was so beautiful, she leapt from the car and ran into the field, singing and dancing as though she was in the Sound of Music.

Stanley yelled for her to stop.  She finally listened when he said “Its all poison ivy!”

Hildegard has poison ivy rashes all over both of her legs.  It was so bad, she was laid up for two weeks.  I was only 8 or so at the time, and I remember my mother going upstairs, and tending to her poor legs with calamine lotion.  As a thank you, she had me sit for her and painted the water color portrait of me that’s in the hallway.”

“I always liked that painting…was that something you wanted?” I asked.

“Oh of course, I very much would like that, when the time comes.” she said.  “Anyway, we got to know her through that time, and Stanley would often come to visit.  He played the violin.  And as I got better at piano, he would play the violin with me.

They were older.  She was probably in her 40’s, Stanley, in his 50’s.  And, even a 8, I could see they were very much in love.  You can just tell looking at some people.  But Stanley still lived with his mother.

Hildegard very much wanted to marry him…and Stanley loved her.  But…his mother would have nothing to do with it and she wouldn’t let him move out.  Hildegard even painted the portrait of Stanley’s mother.  But she hated it and refused to have it in the house.  So Stanley couldn’t bring it home, and Hildegard didn’t want to keep it.

Eventually, Hildegard left.  She went back to Germany.  She never married.  And Stanley stayed with his mother.  Gosh, she didn’t die until she was 95.  That’s how we ended up with the painting.  Stanley’s mother didn’t it want it in the house, and well, Hildegard couldn’t…didn’t want to keep it.  So we have it.”

“That’s…that’s so sad.  That’s…how is that romantic?” I asked, feeling an unsettling emptiness in my heart for two people I’d never met and thinking of a painting I’ve stared at my entire life.

“I always thought of Hildegard and Stanley in comparison to my parents.  They left behind everything.  They only had each other.  They left Germany with nothing, and without knowing any one.  And Stanley could never leave his mother and Hildegard refused to be second.

And even at the age of 8, I remember seeing them come to dinners at our house together…I remember thinking about how in love they looked with each other.  And that painting…of the mother who would never let her son go…not even for his own happiness.

It reminds me of how lucky we are, if we find the one person we’re supposed to love…and how we need to take that opportunity, no matter the difficulty.  Otherwise…well…Hildegard died in Germany, Stanley died here.  They never saw each other again.

But they always looked like they loved each other so much.”

“That’s.  That’s sad.  That’s Romeo and Juliet sad…or fairy tale sad.”

“It is.”

And I think of that painting, of Stanley’s Mother and how unhappy a woman she must have been to see a chance for her son to be happy and to be so wrapped up in whatever her own misery was that she couldn’t let him go.  Not even in his 50’s.  And beautiful Hildegard.  With, I imagine, old hollywood red lips and fading glamor, up in her apartment, painting the portrait of a woman who likely hated her and thinking of the man she wanted more than anything in the world.

But not wanting to be second place.

I think of these sad people, who had a brief, shining moment of love…even if it had moments of poison ivy.  And I have a picture in my head of my mother as a young girl, playing the piano and watching Stanley play the violin and seeing Hildegard sit down to dinner with them and basking in the glow of their love.

And then watching as they separated.  Neither able to compromise with the either, neither able to move back, only able to move forward…alone.

I wonder about them, and the end of their lives…if they remember that trip to the field…or dinners at my Oma’s house and sitting across the table from each other.  Maybe holding hands, or just simply catching the others eye, and smiling a couple’s smile.  I think of the tentative love they must have had for each other.  And I wonder if, in their last moments, they wanted to do things differently.

Would Stanley have left his mother, if he’d known he would never see Hildegard again?  Would Hildegard have compromised?  Knowing she’d return to Germany on her own?  What about Stanley’s Mother?  What had made her so unhappy, so insecure she could never let her son leave?

What did they regret in their last moments?

Lost love? Not being brave enough to make an important leap? Or maybe just the sun glinting off of Hildegard’s hair in the giddy moments before everything went wrong, and she was scratched and scarred?

I fear regret.  Because its something you cannot ever fix.  You cannot turn back the clock to find your lost loves.  Sometimes…they are lost forever.  And all that’s left is a memory and a picture on the wall.

-C

Fear the Third: Mistakes and Bad Decisions

“You know how every now and then, you have a moment where your whole life stretches out ahead of you like a forked road, and even as you choose one gritty path you’ve got your eyes on the other the whole time, certain that you’re making a mistake.”
— Jodi Picoult

Much is said about the value in making mistakes.

You learn from mistakes, its how you gain experience, its how you, eventually become a better person.  Your mistakes are the checks and balances in life to help nudge you on the path you should be on.

Most times, in retrospect, mistakes show you the weakness of where you were at some point.  Whether you were selfish, or insecure, or just not good at being a friend or lover that day.

What about when the stakes are higher?

What about making a mistake when everything depends on you making the right decision?

When I have choice in front of me, something big, something that matters, I always feel that this decision, this large or small decision is the be all, end all moment.  That what I decide here will decide, not just my life, but other lives, and, to continue the exaggeration, the course of human history.

But it all comes down to a moment “Is it a mistake for me to say this?”

“Is it a mistake for me to stay another hour?”

“Is this date a mistake?”

“Is this job a mistake?”

I don’t have stage fright, I don’t have a fear of improvisation, but when it comes to making a decision that seems to have long reaching ramifications…when the moment comes, briefly, I am paralyzed.

Anxiety starts in the pit of my stomach.  A sort of unexpected elevator drop that seems to feel like a ball of ice suddenly and heavily appeared within me.  Almost instantly, my temperature drops.  I feel like I can’t get warm, not for anything.  Lastly, I start to shake uncontrollably, from my core.

The more I try to NOT make a mistake, the more I ponder and wonder what the ramifications of this decision might be…the worse it gets.

Because I am afraid that this moment, this decision…will be the worst mistake I’ve made.  And I’ll feel like a fool, or I’ll betray someone’s trust or lead them astray with bad advice, or it’ll be something I can’t fix and I’ll change everything for the worse.

But in that moment.

I make a decision anyway.

I say my peace.

I decide where I’m going.

I do…what I feel like I have to do.

The anxiety doesn’t always stop…sometimes, it does, and quickly…other times it lingers for days…coming back to haunt me if, in fact, the decision I made was a mistake.

And I fear making those big mistakes you can’t come back from.

But still…I decide.  For good or ill, I make a choice and decide.  Because this terror, this fear of making a mistake…is temporary.  Generally, the world is not in the balance, and the mistake i’m afraid of making will be something handled with a heartfelt apology(which it will be) or something fixable…

Oh if its truly a mistake, it’ll be terrible.  It might only be terrible for a day…or a week…or forever…but the other option is never trying, never leaving your comfort zone, and being stagnant.

Which, really, is something to fear even more.

-C