Monday, October 6, 2014

re-ignited, or "this is what happens when your heart breaks wide open"

Women who Run with the Moon

“As women, when we’re children we’re taught to enter the world with big hearts. Blooming hearts. Hearts bigger than our damn fists. We are taught to forgive - constantly - as opposed to what young boys are taught: Revenge, to get ‘even.’ Our empathy is constantly made appeals to, often demanded for. If we refuse to show kindness, we are reprimanded. We are not good women if we do not crush our bones to make more space for the world, if we do not spread our entire skin over rocks for others to tread on, if we do not kill ourselves in every meaning of the word in the process of making it cozy for everyone else. It is the heat generated by the burning of our bodies with which the world keeps warm. We are taught to sacrifice so much for so little. This is the general principle all over the world.
By the time we are young women, we are tired. Most of us are drained. Some of us enter a lock of silence because of that lethargy. Some of us lash out. When I think of that big, blooming heart we once had, it looks shriveled and worn out now. When I was teaching, I had a young student named Mariam. She was only 11 years old. Some boy pushed her around in class, called her names, broke her spirit for the day. We were sitting under a chestnut tree on a field trip and she asked me if a boy ever hurt me. I told her many did and I destroyed them one by one. I think that’s the first time she ever heard the word ‘destroyed.’ We rarely teach our girls to fight back for the right reasons.
Take up more space as a woman. Take up more time. Take your time. You are taught to hide, censor, move about without messing up decorum for a man’s comfort. Whether it’s said or not, you’re taught balance. Forget that. Displease. Disappoint. Destroy. Be loud, be righteous, be messy. Mess up and it’s fine – you are learning to unlearn. Do not see yourself like glass. Like you could get dirty and clean. You are flesh. You are not constant. You change. Society teaches women to maintain balance and that robs us of our volatility. Our mercurial hearts. Calm and chaos. Love only when needed; preserve otherwise.
Do not be a moth near the light; be the light itself. Do not let a man’s ocean-big ego swallow you up. Know what you want. Ask yourself first. Decide your own pace. Decide your own path. Be cruel when needed. Be gentle only when needed. Collapse and then re-construct. When someone says you are being obscene, say yes I am. When they say you are being wrong, say yes I am. When they say you are being selfish, say yes I am. Why shouldn’t I be? How do you expect a woman to stand on her two feet if you keep striking her at the ankles.
There are multiple lessons we must teach our young girls so that they render themselves their own pillars instead of keeping male approval as the focal point of their lives. It is so important to state your feelings of inconvenience as a woman. We are instructed to tailor ourselves and our discomfort - constantly told that we are ‘whining’ and ‘nagging’ and ‘complaining too much.’ That kind of silence is horribly violent, that kind of insistence upon uniformly nodding in agreement to your own despair, and smiling emptily so no man is ever uncomfortable around us. Male-entitlement dictates a woman’s silence. If we could see the mimetic model of the erasure of a woman’s voice, it would be an incredibly bloody sight.
On a breezy July night, my mother and I were sleeping under the open sky. Before dozing off, I told her that I think there is a special place in heaven where all wounded women bury their broken hearts and their hearts grow into trees that only give fruit to the good and poison to the bad. She smiled and said Ameen. Then she closed her eyes.”

— A Woman of War by Mehreen Kasana

Brilliant. Brought me to tears. I recently had someone brutally unfriend me based on a sort of essay/rant I had written on Facebook. Someone I held as a dear, dear friend no longer speaks to me, no longer looks at me, or smiles at me, based on something I wrote online. That had happened to me. My very own life experience that I chose to write about. That did not, in any way, involve her. Or anyone she knew. That she didn't agree with. And didn't agree that I should write about it, and didn't agree that I should so openly share my experience with others. And didn't have any problem sharing her opinion on the matter. Screaming her opinion, rather. When she was yelling at me, I was test-driving her car and trying to keep the peace. As she shouted and berated me, maintaining that I was out of line to write what I'd written and that I overshare, I forced myself to remain focused on driving. Turning on the turn signal instead of the windshield wipers, making sure not to veer in and out of lanes, and smile and try my very best to remain calm and rational until I could get to safety. I'd been in a similar position before, in a car, no less. That prisoner feeling crept up again. But this time I smiled. I did not panic. There was enough of that going on. Her energy felt demonic and thick and vicious and it scared me, but I smiled. I smiled because of the year and a half of seeing a gracious therapist who has unconditioned my mind and retaught me how to think. I smiled because I chose joy over fear, even in a terrifying moment. I smiled because if I'd gone there, if I'd gone off the edge, I'd join her. I'd crash the car. Or be stranded somewhere. I smiled tenderly and used quiet, kind words. But I stood my ground. I was not a doormat. She could not throw her vitriol all over me and expect me to accept it. She could not push me over, even though I am usually off balance and would normally cave. I was defiant. I did not raise my voice, though I was tempted. I defended my writing and my words. Maybe for the first time in our relationship, I displayed a firm backbone. I was honest but civil. I didn't gush or put on dramatics.

It destroyed her. I watched as slowly her composure broke, her eyes went wild, her eyebrows raised high, her voice raised, considerably at first, for she expected me to back down. To cower. And then at an all-time high. Few people have shouted that way at me. She went bat shit crazy. She was screaming and I was steering. It was like a bad nightmare.

It breaks my heart each and every day, to think that my loud and shouting truth, the voice I am only able to express through my truest passion, writing, turned someone so far against me that she slammed a door in my face and screamed she would no longer be my friend anymore. That she was so incised by respectful words I'd strung together and shared on a social media forum. But her opinion of my writing is fine. I was not hurt that someone didn't like what I'd written. It happens every day. I don't write so that people will bow down to what I say. But I do expect that as a woman, writing about my own experiences which happened to me, another woman would at least give me the decency of respecting me. As a woman. As a human. I might not like John Boehner. I actually do not have the stomach for anyone in the entire GOP, women included, and personally believe that this country would function much more easily if the entire Republican party was done away with. But I respect their rights to their opinions. That is their civil liberty. I don't have to like them.

It happened in May. I have not been able to think of anything at much length, since. The whole situation was so intense and so awful and so odd that in the aftermath, I was perplexed. Which led to feeling broken down, completely. I stopped writing cold turkey, stopped getting close to people, stopped smiling at everyone like once before, stopped going to church, stopped picking up the phone, stopped texting, stopped falling in love. I screamed and cried and didn't eat and when I did I vomited. But I did not apologize. I did not beg, go running back, nor make a million pleas, as was custom before. I stood my ground. Painfully. Nothing has affected me this way. Not my parents' divorce, not my own nightmare of a breakup, not a trauma that would land me in years of therapy, not a lot of things. But I stood by my writing. Like a beast. Like a mama bear. Like a hyena. Well no. Not at all like a hyena. As much as I wanted to cackle insanely, I just could not bring myself out of shock. It was one of those experiences like out of You've Got Mail...although this time, I was victorious. I did not say precisely what I thought of to say later. But still. I stood up for myself. And I was thrown out. Literally out of the car. Figuratively, out of the friendship.

Afterward I thought I stopped caring. But the fact is, I do care. I care more. I write more. I get even closer to people. I break boundaries. Tear down walls. Within myself. I do not give my power away. It feels good to hold onto one's willpower. I will smile at everyone, even when my smile meets a glare and darkened eyes that want me gone and out of sight. Even when I say a greeting and am ignored. Greet anyway. My heart broke once again with the ending of that fast and furious friendship. Tonight something inside was re-ignited. Thank you to my dear soul, Margarita, truly, sharing this piece of writing with me and for giving me this most precious gift. Passing this along. Breaking my heart wide open again. I love you, friend.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

anxiety and doubt

I did not write yesterday. I did not write today. And now I have a zit.

I think the universe is telling me to write. Even if I don't think it matters. Even if I am not ready.

And to buy face wash.

I am a writer who wrestles, on a second-by-second basis, with anxiety and doubt. I have anxiety about the weird chicken smell coming from the kitchen right now, even though I made fajitas hours ago. With the fan on. I have anxiety about being 31 and never having had my career yet. I'm not in the middle of a booming career. Not at the start of one. Not at the end of one and starting another. Not married and devout, so as to be supporting my husband's career. Not a mother, so as to be home all day entertaining little hellions (which I'm actually looking forward to. Very much. One day.)all day. Nope. I am just a 31 year old who moved home last April and as of this past April, is renting a room from her family. Who have been so kind as to take me in. I have anxiety about the fact that I could fall into a major vertigo attack at any given moment, and even more anxiety about not having one, thinking the last one was truly the last. My anxieties have anxieties. And not taking any kind of sedatives, I have chosen to face the anxieties head-on and to treat my dis-ease (Louise Hay, thanks) with essential oils.

But sometimes 2 drops of oregano oil under the tongue just doesn't cut it.

And sometimes, no matter how scattered we've become, we are forced to take a step back and stop rushing and take a good hard look.

And then doubt comes creeping in. I have more anxieties than doubts, but the doubts are starting to rear their ugly heads again. Doubt about being the best writer I can be and the best human I can be at the same time. Or even just about making sure to write daily. And yet hold a day job. Here my doubt becomes being a good person but is a writer a good person, truly? Don't writers uncover things, dust off and expose? Don't essayists, my chosen genre, especially have to dig deep and be more self-absorbed than most writers? Doesn't being very self-focused actually aid the essayist? Exposing the real issues of society? Giving light to dark matters? Speaking up when everyone else chooses silence?

I tweet and I Facebook. But do I actually write?

When it comes down to it, am I actually writing?

Or am I just looking to see how many people responded to something I quickly churned out on Facebook. Is that writing? The kind I want to do? I need to be gentle with myself which I touched on last time but I also need to step back and take a good hard look at where I am and where I'm headed and what I did today to get me closer to being the writer I dream of becoming. There are books in me. That aren't being written. When will they get written if they're not started now? I have been so focused on others' plans that I haven't been going for my own.

Waking up at noon today was relaxing. I chilled in pajamas and then memorized lines for a local play opening in 2 weeks. Which doesn't do anything for what I want to be doing. But I did set the intention to participate in community theater once again. And then literally the next night I was asked to audition. I didn't think it would lead to what it's lead to. Having rehearsal almost every night of the week instead of being well-meaning but aimless. Meeting new people. Realizing I can, in fact, memorize a script if I work hard enough at it. Stumbling through blocking. Be(com)ing comfortable in my own skin. This experience which at the beginning filled me with doubt is now filling me with confidence. Not in myself. But in the universe knowing and life perfectly unfolding, imperfectly. The job I'm overqualified for but now thankful for, the relationship I was certain would blossom over the course of this year which never, in fact, did. My sister's strength and love and insistence in revealing to me the truth of that "relationship" situation, as painful as it was. And the truth which was then revealed to me (by me): that I have much work to do on myself before ever getting romantically involved with someone else. I was in doubt and denial for so long, but now feel peace and even grace. I am just not able to love somebody else as deeply as I want to until I can love myself as deeply as I need to.

I know this year is almost over. And when I mull it over, it is hard to find lessons. I had anticipations and expectations, several of which did not come to light. I can dwell on them or I can face them. I can see the lessons for what they were. They taught me things. To be strong. To be bold. To be less absorbed in others. To be more focused on my own actions and less focused on the actions of others. To react less.

I know it's October. And the beginning of the month, at that. There are opportunities afoot, and opportunities as-yet unheard of. But they're there. Weirdly, despite Mercury retrograding, I feel this shift coming on. The trick is to face anxiety and doubt head-on in the next few months and live in each moment. I'm feeling very uncreative tonight but I wanted to at least write something.

Now maybe the zit will go away.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

mo money mo problems

I don't have any reason at all for that title, except for the fact that I couldn't think of another one. How's that for original. And I've been thinking about my ex a lot lately and hoping he is rocking his life, and feeling like I wish we could be friends because the best part of our relationship was definitely the friendship and the laughter. Sometimes he'd say this expression or sing it and even though we would have both appreciated a couple hundred thousand bucks at the time or let's be honest, a couple hundred bucks, we were entirely broke. And (I, for one, was) entirely in love. And entirely mismatched. I feel guilty sometimes when I really let myself go there and dwell on the bad parts of the relationship, like how hard he worked juxtaposed to how sick I always felt, and how I faked even feeling remotely ok to avoid a fight about rent or groceries or why my energy was always depleted, and how I worked until I couldn't and how I moved home and how much it hurt him and how he wanted to own a gun so badly and I'm dead against gun ownership, and how unable and unwilling I was to make compromises, and how goddamn stubborn we both were and how we both enabled each other to a toxic, codependent point. Really, we were codependent at the start, and I wouldn't come to recognize that until just recently after reading a book about love addiction and codependency. (Guilty, both accounts.) I'm now a recovering codependent, a recovering love addict, a recovering a LOT of things, and yet have no regrets. In therapy we learn to have to become very very VERY very gentle with ourselves. Treating ourselves like a tender filet mignon. That's probably the worst analogy I have ever fashioned up, but there you have it. It is what it is.

The point is, we need to be more gentle and tender with ourselves than we even believe to be possible. More gentle with how we speak of ourselves, about ourselves, to ourselves, with ourselves, the language we utter, the thoughts we think, what we allow to come out of our own mouths about ourselves. There is absolutely no room for self-hate and self-loathing. Only room for tenderness, gentleness, kindness, decency, affection and respect. We have to do this in order to love ourselves unconditionally. Don't you want to get to a point of unconditional love with yourself? It's the only thing that will save the world little by little. And yes I realize I'm sounding like some quote board on Pinterest right now. But self-love and self-compassion are crucial. It's essential in loving ANYONE even one iota. It's the only thing that matters! Money doesn't matter if we hate ourselves and have terrible interpersonal relationships. You can be the richest man and have the most broken heart. In fact, I would gather that the two are pretty closely related. So with my ex I think of the good times, and there are far many more of those. For a long time food reminded me too much of the relationship and how badly it ended, that I refused to cook. I cannot tell you how many times I almost texted him a picture of lumpia or fajitas or something else I made, just as a knee-jerk reaction since our relationship revolved around food. The things I learned from him. The things he taught me in our home kitchen. The fascinating dinners out. Every one of them was like a college lecture, but the most fascinating food-related lecture you'd ever been to. Because we were both learning something together. We met as line cooks, he went to culinary school, we cooked together, he wined and dined me at his restaurant, other DC restaurants. We saved out pennies to try a new foie somewhere. I'd read food blogs during the day and waitress at night. I'd try out a recipe by total experimentation; I'd never claim to be a master at anything. He ate all the leftovers I'd cooked during the day, at 4 am, etc etc. How he couldn't speak a language in any way which somewhat bothered me, but for some kitchen Spanish. He did know the correct pronunciation of mirepoix, and before you label me a total snob, know that I am the last person on earth who should judge when it comes to language skills. I just am very impressed by fluency.

About a year ago I had a random cooking question like how do you roast a beet, at what temp. Something like that. I'd forgotten, and knew he'd instantly write right back. But wait. We'd broken up months beforehand, we weren't speaking, not even in a mean way, just not AT ALL. And that was for the best. But in my mind it was such a quick, automatic reaction to just text him a quick question. His number was after all still in my phone (which I've since deleted, to avoid similar mishaps), and I rattled off the question. Then hit send. Oh my God. I have never turned my phone off so fast. I'm super clumsy and drop everything and of course in that moment I dropped my phone, the battery fell out, and I prayed that it didn't send. I was in a mad panic the whole time the phone was shutting down thinking WHAT IF THAT JUST SENT. Can he read it? Why did I just send that without effing thinking?!? We are not friends. We're not lovers. We're not engaged. We're not anything. And I'm pretty sure he hates me and wants nothing to do with me. I'm mended, moved on, and ready to be friends but that just may not ever be possible. Nor would it be healthy, probably. It's probably just some twisted thinking I have to want everyone to not be in conflict and to have everyone get along and then when people are assholes, I'm like well shit, now I have to be mean.

The text never sent. I turned my phone back on and miraculously, the message was still in the outbox. But I flipped my shit over the thought of what if and it gave me somewhat of an ulcer, ok a really fucking huge ulcer for a really long time.

I don't know what to make of the break-up, but I'm glad it happened. I'm glad the relationship happened. I'm glad it's over and we can move forward into the people we are becoming and the souls we were created to become. Not to package the relationship into a neat little box, but it feels good to no longer be angry. It feels good to not think of him with resentment. I think of him with love and I send him a wish for peace.

september papaya

I am not going to pretend I'm not in some sort of weird, entitled midlife crisis right now. Not gonna pretend I'm not a teensy bit depressed. Not gonna pretend I'm not off the chartsssss manic. I have no idea why it's hitting me smack in the head now, but it is. It is what it is. I've been saying that expression a lot lately. Sort of pitifully and resignedly. And I haven't been caring what people think. I haven't been caring at all. About anything. There is something wrong with that. There is something also very right with that. The not caring. Can you imagine just not caring what people think about you, at all? Not being afraid to show yourself to people, your true self, the bitchy side, the unpopular side, the "I'm-not-a-perfect-woman-so-suck-it!" side. I'm living there right now. I just don't really give a damn. And I wonder if I should. I wonder if I should care more. I mean I care about food and the people in my life. I mean, I'm not going to go postal or commit sue. There is no chance of that. Ever. I hate guns. And needles. And wouldn't touch drugs with a ten foot pole. And though I love planes, I dare say I'd never jump out of one. With a parachute or otherwise. I'm not going to do something crazy here. I'm just not feeling like giving a fuck anymore. You know? It doesn't have to be a bad thing, right? Someone I mentioned this new phase to said "oh yeah. You're rebelling. You've always had it in you." And then someone else said I'm an anarchist. I've felt the huge desire to sell everything. Literally. EVERYthing. And pack up my dog and like 10 influential books. And just go. Anywhere. Gary, Indiana even. Just have enough savings for a Greyhound ticket and head south or north or east or west. I don't even care where. Just not here. My soul is forever being crushed mailing out invoices people have to pay and feeling pressured to perform and carefully dancing around on eggshells. I'm disenchanted with money and prestige and superficial niceties. I am unhappy in my position and yet beyond thankful I have one. I am unhappy in this town and yet thankful to live here. I am unhappy in the house I live in and yet grateful to be able to be renting a room, even if it's from my own family. I am unhappy in my own skin and yet feel blessed to be in this body. Alive. Breathing. I'm so happy to be able to buy food, something that used to be difficult. I can take my paycheck and go buy all the food I need. I have been able to afford organic food free of guilt. That is definitely a first. I am not an Iranian woman fighting for her rights. I am not Hannah Graham, whose disappearance has rocked this community. I've been that drunk girl before! Trusting someone too quickly, becoming instantly attached, making snap judgments and acting foolishly with someone I deeply respect, eventually landing in heartache but a huge lesson learned. How many times has everyone in my life told me to guard my heart instead of parading it out on my sleeve? Hundreds? To be more guarded and less outlandish? To not be so transitional and all over the place? My heart may be wounded but I'll bounce back. At least there's that. Why must love and attachment feel like a continual, crushing blow? Why must it feel like this humid typhoon storming in, like when we were climbing the tangerine trees in Okinawa and the sky became gloomy and very heavy. I'm still breathing. I don't know what there is to complain about when listing all the positives. Tonight I deleted my LinkedIn because it just felt like pretentious bullshit. Enough of that! At least I can control what my name is attached to, for better or for worse. My LinkedIn page is total BS. It's all true, but, I mean, what even is LinkedIn? It feels self-glorifying and smarmy. Totally inauthentic. Parading your accomplishments around? It's not who I am and not who I ever want to be. It's not like I even have this laundry list of accomplishments. I don't care where you work, how big your house is, what fancy car you don't drive, what swanky college you didn't go to. I'll take a homeless man with an actual story, with wounds, with transparency, any day. I'm not a bullshitter. And that is something I CAN control. So I deleted it. And it felt so satisfying. I don't know where I'll end up but I hope wherever it is, there will be no sign of bullshit, and if there is, that I'll be able to keep walking until the path is clear.

Oh, and I ate a papaya yesterday. My first one ever. It was ok but sort of too cantaloupey for me. I know I'm being pathetic and that's ok right now.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Time of Mourning, or On Really Hard Tears (first draft)

Reading this quote now is healing and cathartic, though the tears are long past. Yesterday marked one year since the official split, which is still impossible to write about in any kind of genuine detail. Vague is still the preferred route in navigating through. I have sat down 365 times to start a true sentence of healing, but somehow the anger would take over, or the grief. The sense of multiple losses was overwhelming and a certain aspect of denial felt really good. Therapy saved me. I'm not crying anymore, not of the same tears anyway, but I cried more tears every waking moment from April 25-around August 25, than I ever cried in my entire life (or ever will). But I still feel awful and guilty and penitent and a certain sense of betrayal. I wonder if the guilt will ever really go away, or if it will latch on, like a little girl holding tightly to the long string of her red balloon at the fair.

I wonder if releasing the guilt/red balloon is important, or if there is more to be learned as the guilt festers. I know it's important to let things go. I know it still hurts because my writing feels stalled. Stagnant. Aesthetically pleasing, when what I'm going for is raw and vulnerable. Writing that will make you cringe. Is it possible to still feel the emotions, to still experience the guilt, and to be able to accurately write about it? I'm not going back to that desperate crying stage that I lived in for 4 months. I've moved beyond the desperate tears to peaceful acceptance. Loving understanding. Unconditional love and gratitude to the good times, but also the really bad times. The gut-wrenching times when the floor is the only comfort and the Psalms have withered and shriveled.

But the tears sure felt amazing. When I read this quote on Pinterest it just clicked. Something in the language resonated, especially the bit about overwhelming grief and unspeakable love. That should be in a hymn somewhere. And probably is.

The grief stage lasted forever and a day. "A time to mourn" became a time to morph. The longing is still there but has changed form. The original longing was for a return to the same, a resistance to change. To move back to the city, even to the same neighborhood. The longing to live with a friend and experience the nearness. It felt like that's what would bring the desires back, and we'd realize that future was coming upon us and we should embrace the inevitable forever. Let it wash over.

But you can't embrace something that is turned away from you. Or someone, rather. The saddest part is I would have. I would have devoured him in a sweet embrace, his face turned away, his shoulders square and resistant. His locked jaw and my open mouth, rooting. His demeanor painfully stoic. I still would have longed and yearned. Did long and yearn.

Then over the past 7 months the longing slowly turned into the quest for independence, forging a new path, surprising introductions, and altogether, newness in multiple forms. A new job, a new friend, a new fascination. Fascination which turned into possibility.

That's when the distance became healing. There needed to be a time of a thousand tears. That kind of pain will never truly be experienced again. The racing suicidal thoughts. The clinging on to anyone who would hold. The rampant self-loathing, self-hatred, self-abolishing. The dozens of phone calls. The begging. I would have done anything, and did.

Evolving out of a co-dependent lifestyle, out of toxicity, out of stagnancy, into rawness, into anger, into grief, into sadness, and now, acceptance, understanding, fueled by little and big rebellions alike. The wonder is where the self will finally reside. When the grace will kick in. Gratitude feels abundant. Still judging the self-loathing in others feels like a necessary step backward. Necessary steps forward will come. Time will still pass. Tears of grief no longer fall. A time to rejoice is coming.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Months ago my therapist, B, and I were grappling over the subject of what else, love. The theme of the year. Well, I was grappling and furrowing my brows. He was most likely closing his eyes in a zen state, focusing on his breath, meditating, and generally being the calm Buddha that he is. B is for Brave Buddhist.

I was a MESS. Starting over in every way, in more ways than one, square one, blank slate. New beginning. I was anxious, my heart would race, I'd launch into pessimism and trash-talking of self. B urged me to beware the present tense. That didn't compute. Beware? Present tense? Yes, he urged, beware what you say in the present tense. When I put myself and my actions down, he'd remind me to force that into the past. "I don't know how to have healthy relationships" became "I haven't known how to have a healthy relationship in the past" which evolved into "I haven't learned how to have a healthy relationship." This is all paraphrased. I want to write down everything B says, but it's rude to pull out a notebook and besides, we're focusing on our breath and being in the moment. In the time it would take me to rifle through my canvas maps of Paris bag, find my notebook and a pen that works, and open to a fresh page where I left off, the moment would have passed. And with my memory, I'd have forgotten the reason why I went searching for the notebook in the first place.

It was B who saved me from my depression and self-torturing, but he'd be humble and say it was the universe unfolding in love. And I am open to the universe and I am recognizing my relationship with the divine. He'd close his eyes and then look at his hand and then smile the smile that only B seems to have, one radiant with joy and peace and assurance. A smile that reaches his eyes.

Disclaimer: I am not a Buddhist. I was raised a Christian, but lately I've been grappling even with that. Everything Buddhist makes perfect sense. I'm all about inclusiveness and shunning exclusivity. Buddhist quotes and teachings have started resonating with me and I thought it was through B's presence in my life for about a year now, starting serendipitously with the week of the split, but the more I read past writings and journals, the more I realize it was in me all along. There was a liberal living inside of that troubled teen. She came out during college, thankfully, and my soul felt free to soar. Could I be a closet Buddhist? No. I accepted Christ at 14, and I'm sure of it. Granted, I went through a lot of the motions. I got saved. I know I did. I was baptized. I felt changed. I went to the summer camps. Hard as it was to be an introvert at Christian camp (that's an essay idea!), I bunked with 10 other strangers, 4 counselors, went down the crazy water slides in the middle of central Floridian summer, praised and worshipped, prayed and practiced penitence. I still wear the cross (as well as the peace sign). I grapple over wearing the cross and being a pro-choice, gay rights advocate liberal but do anyways. Went to Christian college. Was an RA at said Christian college. Used to attend church religiously. But somewhere along the line the message became watered down to me. It didn't register with my authentic heart. Shun exclusivity? The Christian faith is entirely exclusive. One God. His one son.

I took a good hard look in the mirror the other day and asked my 30 year old people-pleasing face, "Are you doing this because you really want to, or because you're scared to live truth?" My truth would certainly not line up with my parents and their church (that I just joined). And when I come to realize and accept that that's ok, I'll be ready to embrace my authentic self. Luckily she will be waiting patiently as I catch up to her on this journey.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

What it All Means

It's hard to write about this. Mostly since like anything I get seriously affected by, it didn't happen to me. Therefore I feel like I'm stealing someone else's thunder when I mourn. Regardless, my father's massive heart attack last month in the Philippines in addition to emergency double bypass greatly influenced me. Here's how.

JP waltzed into my life, or, rather, we catapulted into his, a little over 20 years ago. I met him when I was 8, in California, after a l-o-n-g road trip in our little white Renault. Just me, mom and Linds. Mom was 28. Linds was about 4. I was a nervous, sweet, funny, cocky, uptight little 8 year old terrified of meeting a new man. Was I supposed to call him daddy? Would he leave? Did he drink? I remember thinking these things, at 8, as we drove through so many long states. I'd been born and raised on the east coast, never experiencing geography like this before. A lot of sun, in October. Something I'd only heard about when the teacher taught history: desert. A lot of sprawling land. Huge new changes. Would he like Lindsay and me? Did he love my mom? What would my new school be like? In California, a land far from Georgia and what I'd become accustomed to since the brutal divorce. At eight I had become conscious of things like change and court and moms losing 25 pounds in gut-wrenching custody battles. I'd grown cognizant of the fact that a lot could be decided from simple answers to complicated questions, like when (at 5)the judge asked me who I wanted to live with and I told him my mom tells me stories but I don't know where my dad goes. I remember shaking the magic 8 ball in the judge's office, but the answers couldn't come from a magic ball this time.

There were dinosaur fruit snacks on the countertop. A life-altering move, a new dad, a new state, a new, spacious condo overlooking a koi pond in Mountain View, California, and all I remember is the dinosaur fruit snacks. We were little girls. Already I found JP adorable. There were 2 boxes, neatly arranged on an otherwise pristine countertop in this long kitchen with complicated-looking appliances. I was mesmerized from the start. Didn't know where to look first. The koi pond? The balcony? The living room with the fascinating red fire place? I had never been in an adult's condo before. Never seen a bachelor pad. I'd never witnessed someone so in love with my mom. Someone so happy around her, so accommodating, so eager and generous. A complete stranger I felt immediately at ease around. His condo became a comfort. Our life started to feel complete, at once. In my eight year old mind I even remember thinking, this is too good to be true. Dads aren't like this.

Fast-forward 22 years. A little lifetime of skinned knees and dad patch-ups. Learning how to ride a bike on the California asphalt, JP running behind me like the wind, holding on tight. Linds whizzing in and out of my path, devilishly grinning. In her training wheels. He let go; I had the bravado and confidence to keep riding. Supertag, frisbee, expeditions, flying over the Bay Bridge. Paper-wrapped chicken at Tien Fu. Introductions to exotic, exquisite cuisines. Our little blonde heads being patted in Okinawa by the sweet Japanese. Yakitori festivals and cherry tree blossoms. Little buddhas. Millions of memories condensed into 22 short years. They flew by, like my long blonde hair soaring in the breeze on that exploratory bicycle ride. He held on and held on, so fatherly, so instantly dad-like, at 33, having never married, with no kids and no kid experiences. It felt uncanny. It felt perfect. It was a relief. Homecoming dances, junior and senior proms. The protectiveness of dad teaching me to dance with my high school crush. That Saturday morning in high school where he introduced me to Brubeck and started my lifelong love affair with jazz. Taking a running jump into Thompson Lake in the summer, and that first winter toboganning down camp's driveway. Hearing his screams and shouts and "hurray"s during my first cross country meet. I was so embarrassed, naturally, at 14. Today I'm beaming, celebrating a father's love. A stranger who became a father, literally overnight. The complexity of our situation faded away as he proved himself over 22 years. Tickle toes, robe nights, his sentimentality. That moment in the middle of You've Got Mail when you look to your right at the sound of a sniffle and of course there J is, tissues and tears and that "Oh, sweetie."

The memories flashed before my eyes in my groggy mind when mom came racing into my room at 7:33 am. "Shannon, J just called, he's having chest pains, Oh my God." Her panic, hysterics, my numbness. I couldn't feel my face. The tears wouldn't come. All I could think is "No. This can't happen. Not to him." And then I ran to my computer, cursing my stubbornness at still not having a smart phone. Logging on to Facebook, all I could think was, God spare him. If you please just spare him, I'll do anything. I'll move out. I'll get my life together. I'll get my dog fixed. I'll go to church and mean it. I'll tithe again. You can have me back, if you just spare him. I'll volunteer at the homeless shelter and change my name like I've been avoiding. I won't avoid LIFE anymore. I'll open up a soup kitchen. Whatever it takes. I am Yours. Just give me my dad in one piece.

When I posted that my father was experiencing chest pains this very moment in Manila while on a business trip, people came crawling out of the woodwork. Friends from high school I hadn't talked to in years but were mentored by J at one time, praying and sending love. Church friends and acquaintances where J is a devoted member of several ministries. People praying, sending good vibes and well wishes, asking what they could do and how they could help. No idea what to ask for or what to tell them. The casserole ministry springing into action as my mom flew over the world to get to her husband, just arriving as he was coming out of bypass surgery. One aunt springing to action here in Virginia kicking into gear the process of expediting a passport, hand-delivering scans of my dad's heart to the head cardiologist at UVA's personal home. One aunt literally dropping everything and catching the first flight to Manila, sending him off with kisses and hugs from home. Grandparents calling constantly to check in and show support as siblings just barely made it through. Linds and her husband in Florida feeling helpless as I was, launching a CaringBride site. Most of all, my Filipino guardian angel friend from work, where, bear in mind, I have only been for 5 months at this point, throwing herself and all of her Filipino contacts into action. Around 8 am I posted about the chest pains. Not 15 minutes later was Anne texting me for details, alerting me that her friend like a sister to her was on her way to hospital. The texting and calls and constant support from Anne continued until the very end, in fact, continues today, a month later. As I still process the whole of what happened, she took the time and the initiative to BE in the midst of my nightmare. Texting me the names of doctors on the other side of the world who just performed angioplasty on my dad. Giving me the phone number to his doctor and his room at Makati Medical Center in Manila. I didn't have time to pinch myself. But days later, rifling through each text, my body couldn't help but shake. The tears finally came. No longer was I in shock. This friend literally CARRIED me and my family through the biggest crisis of our life, world away from each other, as my dad was experiencing his heart attack, she had loved ones showing up at the hospital introducing themselves as family friends. The depth of the situation hits me at rare moments. In the shower I will recognize the sheer temporariness of this life and start weeping. As I'm getting ready for work I just drop and start praying. Like there's an earthquake happening. Or a storm warning. I can't get away from God anymore. I don't want to.

In this moment, it is impossible for me to feel as if God doesn't exist. Impossible to feel unloved and unblessed. Impossible to feel anything but gratitude for this formerly doubting Thomas. Joy, even. Impossible to feel depressed. "It's like God's rolling out the red carpet," my sister candidly stated. And that's the only expression for it. The only adequate way to describe this journey and the whole of what happened. It feels exciting now. To look back and watch the events unfolding, so cinematic. Mom racing over from the airport, lost luggage, as dad emerges from surgery stupor, just opening his eyes! Mom ten minutes away from hospital! Constant Facebook updates from aunt, right there, watching this all unfold like a film. To see the orchestrations of the divine. To brush my fingers over mother-of-pearl caviar spoons and page through Filipino cookbooks and wear gorgeous freshwater pearl earrings, gifts from their travels. But I will never forget the moment of realization: when I came to understand this life and its point, and my purpose, and what it all means.