The Continual Act of Shit Hitting the Fan; Hardship, Bitterness, and Liking Myself Again
I have often said that terrible things arrive in clusters. Engines sputter to a stop. Hurricanes form. Flu season dives in through the throat. Cell phones break themselves entirely (they are obviously animate and therefore capable of being at fault for their own destruction and I will defend this to the grave so fuck off, Jana). The mouth of a vacuum has no sense of selection or apology.
That said, in the past this has always been oddly comforting to me. Once you are stripped to your most anxious self, once you see each blow and examine it in the light, you realize that there are only two responses: 1) suck it up, scratch your progress, and just rebound altogether, or 2) curl up into the fetal position watching Degrassi reruns and resign yourself to an entire existence carved out of this until the television/computer/tablet, too, dies on you and you are alone with only yourself and the thin coating of Dorito dust on all that you used to know.
So I sucked it up. Every time.
Yet, there is perseverance in the face of lost wallets and absent keys, and then there are the real skeletal scraps of sadness that you never see coming. And in the wake of any real loss or hardship, simply waking up, getting up, and going through the motions is not at all the same thing as being okay again. The last several months of my life were easily the most trying, unanticipated beasts I have yet to conquer (we're talkin' gooey, nasty beasts, not I-could-wear-a-push-up-bra-and-make-this-a-sexy-costume-beasts). They were not cute in the slightest. And while I have by no means been a stranger to the sight of things torn open, these creatures pushed me up against some cold, hard choices about who I believe myself, and want myself, to be.
At the start of the year I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that widdled my diet down to the bare, squirrel-like sustenance of Into-the-Wild (you know, minus the lethal berries and what not). In conjunction with this, I had not one, but two cancer scares. But it was still alright. I was still strong. I was Aretha Franklin. I ate what I needed to eat and ran the tests I needed to run and I was okay. I returned home from abroad and began the treacherous search for all things adult and put-together. Gym memberships. Grad schools. Cover letters. Heavy duty tupperware. The thing about beasts, though, is how rarely you see them form—their births are foreign folklore in mystical, inaccessible places. Anytime I mistook the sight of something for resolution, I soon found out it was just the opposite.
In the span of only a few months, I lost two family members in the tragic, drawn-out-illness type of way, comparable only to Chinese water torture, if in the place of water you find hospitals & chemo treatments. An estuary of synapses folding then tucking away. In the midst of responding to this, the blows kept coming. Suddenly I had a lease scam forcing me out of my apartment, a boyfriend in the ICU, and an old friend overdosing across miles and miles of highway and vacated space. And all the while I was trying to breathe the first breath of my career, pretending I was capable of not only crawling out of bed, but conquering the life around me. The claws, they were scraping their way from the depths of their folklore and right in through my lungs.
This was the part of the TV series where the audience finds it too taxing to keep up. It is a sitcom-turned-soap opera, and no one is willing to believe that one life can hold that much conflict. No single struggle-bus can grow that full without rolling over. No one can even manage to feel anything at all for the characters by this point, because their every move is Shakespearean and overdone.
Anytime I approached (or bumped into [or feigned the basic ability to socialize with]) any of my friends, we found ourselves in the age-old vortex of okay-yeah-that-sucks-but-let's-find-the-silver-lining-eh?. No one person can hear so much pain without reeling at the sound of it. Myself included. If only for survival's sake, we are not meant to stand so close to things falling apart. It didn't take long for me to feel like nothing but a burden, a mockery of my own attempts at forward movement. As someone who has seen many a friend in many a stage of breakdown, I knew what it was to be asked too much of. And I'd be damned if I would subject anyone else to that.
So I alienated the audience altogether and trusted only in the static of their now busted screens. I quit calling my friends. I quit answering their messages. I quit talking or feeling or doing anything with myself. And that's when the real shit wave came rolling in.
I thought about leaving the state. I thought about quitting my industry. I thought about living under my best friend's bed. I thought about Barcelona and kissing foreign boys on the sand and becoming nothing but dumb particles, abstracted and clustered into an anyone or a no one but not a dumb bag of myself.
But the thing about staying when all you want to do is leave is, once you see each blow and examine it in the light, behind it you find people. Not the sitcom-viewers who only answer your texts on Friday nights, but real people. Real friends. I hated to ask anything of them. I hated their arms beneath my bags. I hated their seats on planes or my mess on their apartment floors. I hated their hugs and their calls and their methods of sustaining me because it meant that I might otherwise wilt.
Leeway started to feel like purgatory; even as I grew to love each friend more and more for their compassion, I grew to feel even more and more like a burden. A flaming sack of poop on a doorstep.
Here is where I first noted a phenomenon I could only describe as “A Case of the Injustices.” This, to those as of yet unfamiliar, is the general disrupting mist of complaint that follows you when you least expect it—the ways a subway door closing just a moment too early or an incorrect restaurant order can morph into a personal attack. The way the wind lifting your skirt at the wrong angle can feel like some god somewhere giving you the middle finger. Suddenly I caught myself saying things like “we will never make it there on time,” “I have no chance at this job,” “nothing matters anyways.” And as someone who has prided myself my entire life on an internal compass pointing me always to reassurance, to the belief that all things good will come in their own time, this was the most vicious beast of all. In blazers, I saw my impending professional failure. In tupperware, I saw all the things I could not hold together. All the tears I shed in the Apple store or on an airplane or train or in some awkward corner of Dunkin Donuts. All the employees awkwardly shifting their gaze to preserve whatever shred of dignity they thought I was owed. Out of all the things I had lost, I never expected the sinkhole of this.
But this, of course, was the crux of it -- the test I never knew I was studying for all my life. What happens when everything becomes evident in its bare fragility, when nothing seems so secure as it once pretended to be, when even the most basic givens like what you eat for dinner or who you call when you're upset are taken away? A rare and gnawing quiet envelops your normal abilities to suck-it-up and cheer-up-charlie and suddenly you meet yourself. You really meet yourself. In your ugliest, truest, most difficult form. And you ask yourself, is this who I really want to be? Are these the weapons I really want to deploy? The nothing-ever-works-out and the why-even-try-in-the-first-place? If everything clears away, tucks back into the earth, and there is nothing but the dirt, do I condemn it for its vacancy, or do I thank it for still holding me here, anyways?
You are sick, you can barely eat anything, but you can still eat. You can still heal.
You have failed, will fail, are failing, but you still have time to bounce back.
You have lost, will lose, are losing, but you are still not alone.
Whenever you think the floor cannot give out any further, it can. Whenever you think you can't watch more Degrassi reruns, you can. New monsters are born every day. Some familiar, and some entirely indistinguishable from friendly faces. But this is not the only truth. As hard as it is to come face-to-face with yourself and meet who you really are at the molten core beneath pretext and coffee and Facebook friends and Friday night breakdancing sessions, there will always be a next time. You will always meet yourself again, flustered and overwhelmed, with all the things taken from you anew, and thank yourself, for still holding everything here, anyways.