DAYS ALL BLEND TOGETHER WHEN I AM ALONE IN THE HOUSE. I couldn’t tell you if it’s Wednesday or Thursday. I woke up the other morning and was convinced that it is Fall when it is actually early Summer. They say that losing sense of space and time is one of the first steps along the path of completely losing your mind. A misstep that leads to a breakdown. So now I am trying to keep conscious of the date and the time and the season and what it is, exactly, that I do all day. It is almost a liability that I can make my own schedule. As long as I meet my deadlines, the university I work for could care less if it is written at 3 am or 3pm. But what do I do, what have I been doing, because God knows I have not been able to concentrate. This is what I come up with; I grieve.
Someone once told me that there are professional mourners who are hired for sad occasions to fill out the room. I imagine they are hired for wakes of unpopular people. Perhaps the funeral home arranges it, you know, to make the family feel better. These mourners are professionals and are paid for their work. But my grieving could never be professional; it is wild, tangled, an emotion of strong gales and heavy rains. So when someone next asks me what I do for a living I will tell them: I grieve. This is what I do. But how much do you want to know? When we pass in the hall or meet at a cocktail party or opening and you ask, How are you? I know I am supposed to say Fine. Oddly, even if someone is doing better than fine – say doing fantastic, great, fabulous, they are not expected to say so. Just say Fine.
So on this Sunday as I sort of watch but don’t watch a French film (which is very French and probably the last thing I should be watching in my present state) I literally have a rash all over my neck and shoulders and hives on my face and hands. I wonder if I am mourning the loss of love – all kinds of love, familial, agape, Eros. That thing that happens to all of us and we think we’ll never recover, yet we do. I can’t decide if that’s merciful or merciless. It just is. And though, these past days, there have been too many times when I literally wish I would not wake up, this old body fights against me and rises anyway, as if it were strong enough to face another day. It defies me, defies my will that says Quit now. But I want to tell you how I am doing. I am doing fine.
These days, I’m living with this undercurrent of sadness. A disconnect somewhere. If we speak it out loud, it becomes more real. Sure, it is already so palpable – but that’s just it. We can hardly tolerate it as it is. To speak the words, to confess would mean to fully uncover this thing that we both said would never come. We said it, years ago, Never, ever ever will I ever do ___ to you, and we meant it. God we mean it. I know you’ve said this too, and by God, you know you mean it. So how are we to cope when this happens to us, despite all best intentions and effort. Where is it that we fell of the path? Was there a day when things began to change, or a moment? That night at the falafel shop when, for the first time in all these years, we found we had absolutely nothing to say to each other and we sat there, mute.
I could run down the checklist that Madison Avenue tells us we should want, and whether I agree or not (and for the most part, I do not agree, for the record), I can see that each has the requisite check-marks that should equal contentedness and success. They remain dissatisfied, clucking at those around them to “change things.” Expecting their partner to keep up his/her end. It falls to us, those who are still in love to effect change. Those who have checked out hand around and loiter in the lobby, waiting to see if it’s worth staying or not. Despite all this rejection, deep down, I know that it is up to me to present the “value proposition.” “This is my worth to you.” The hard sell that you pitch softly. Pathetic. Still, you do it.
It is a sad thing to see the ugly side of humanity. But it is a devastating thing when the one person you truly believed was different, exceptional (which is why you choose him/her), when you realize that that person will disregard and shove you aside like a stranger on a crowded city street. The prick who bumps hard against you and never looks back, never says “Sorry.”
I know this has happened to you, especially if you live in a city. And even though the person was a total stranger the fact that they didn’t apologize made you sad, and then you felt meek and weak because you didn’t turn around and say something to them. You think; if it happened again, I would say something. I really would, you insist. I won’t be pushed around anymore. It’s every quick comeback you thought afterward. The quips that come easily when you are out of the situation, and those others in life who manage to bully other people. How do they do this? Is it weakness or strength? Perhaps a little of both. In any case, you write in some journal, you vehemently protest to your friends. This time, this time, this time, will be the last. But you don’t know.
Trite but true: treat someone like shit for long enough, and if you start when they are young, they’ll grow up believing it. Treat them like they’re worth something, worth loving, and they’ll believe that too. This is how we learn. I am not sure how I grow up, and perhaps that’s just the problem. It seems no-one cares enough to say You’re shit or You’re great. Can’t we be both? Isn’t it just possible that we are not so fucking neatly defined? I am shit and plain and freckled and should take whatever I can get because that’s my lot in life, and at other times I am nothing less than a the brilliant daughter who returns home and makes the family proud because of all I have achieved. I should tattoo my resume on my arms. It would be easier at cocktail parties.
I wonder if anyone cares who anyone is anymore, outside of where they work and what they do and where they’ve been published and who their agent is. I guess that’s okay because on that front, I seem to come out pretty much okay. That doesn’t stop me wishing that people actually cared more about each other in a more profound sense – like, what was the last lie you told, instead of what was the last job you held.
We spend years doing this hokey thing of learning how to love ourselves – flaws and all – and we bow to the psychiatric gods, because God help us, we must finally come to believe we are worth the love and devotion of one. person; That maybe all those people who tell you how great you are really mean it and that some people can be trusted. Like Susana Kaysen writes in Girl Interrupted, therapy is an industry, “You lie down, you confess your sins and ktch-ing! You are saved!”
Dare to believe. For once, I’d like to know what it feels like to just be a normal person, who doesn’t think they’re shit and doesn’t think they’re great. They’re just flip-sides of the same coin; both essentially meaningless. Most of us are neither great nor shit, and maybe that’s the hardest part of all. We devalue all this stuff in our lives that we’ve worked so hard to achieve. It’s become politically correct to slam on different things. I’ve realized that political correctness has very little to do with not pissing on people – it just means we piss on different people.
Today, we piss on all the things we valued yesterday and we value all the things we used to piss on. Why do we always have to undercut and piss on something or someone? I mean, what is the fucking point?
Christ, the truth is, we can sit around and say to ourselves, “Shouldn’t I be running a publishing house right now,” which I’ve done and when I was doing that, naturally, figured it was something else I should be doing. I tell myself it doesn’t have to be this way. It just doesn’t. I can keep pissing on myself, on my life, and keep accepting other people pissing all over me, and hell, I can even piss back, but please, what is the point? Talk about pissing away your time.
When you grow up poor, when you grow up with, what we call in polite society, “eccentrics”, you are taught that only the upper-class girls can command such respect and devotion. That poor, blue-collar girls like me, better take what they can get and be grateful at that. Girls like ___________ (fill in name here). The values of this individual change, depending on your background and what you were told. In my case, the one that is worthy and deserving of love has none of my characteristics – or none that I recognize. She is blonde or brunette with perfect olive skin and slanty blue eyes and full lips. She is tall and dresses like she doesn’t care, because she can do that. She is aloof and icy, doesn’t get emotionally bent. She’s not messy, the way I am. She is what in England we call a Sloane Ranger. These are the girls who can command exclusivity and love and happiness. They have classy accents and come from exotic places, not the blue-collar outskirts of North East London by way of Scotland, the much ignored step-child of the United Kingdom. But so what? So what if I am not these things that advertising tells me I should be or at least, I should want to be. Do I want to be those things? Do you?
I bet not.
We have grown too comfortable with this grief, this apathy and cynicism. It’s just part of my generation. A friend says, There needs to be some kind of revelation, and I think “revolution.” She’s right, of course. We can’t stay stuck in this position forever. It’s like a chess game in which no move is possible, or the only moves are those that will be the end of the game, the death of your position. So you sit, immobilized, watching the sand flow evenly through the timer, wishing it were bigger. That you had more time, because maybe then you’d figure out the ‘right’ move. But this isn’t about winning or losing – or it is, but not as individuals. I’d like for both of us to ‘win.’
We are soldiers, weary of our war, unsure of whether or not we are on the same side. We no longer act within character and each of us finds ourselves playing a role that doesn’t seem to fit, but one that we recognize. Ah, the family myth. The roles we slip into so easily because they are familiar. We may know they are bad for us, not who we want to be, but we have learned them all too well and they are our default.
My role? I am a reminder of all that has gone wrong. A sick person that no one can quite cure, a medical failure, a person who goes in circles and most of all, a damaged person. And although my I have lost someone so close to suicide and none of us ever recovered, I miraculously find ways to justify my own way out of things. Not by suicide, not that. But maybe death from all this shitty illness. I tell myself I’m okay with it because in reality, it scares the shit out of me and the only way to be cool with it, if that’s even possible, is to act like you have any control over it, which you don’t. It’s stupid. I tell myself they’ll get over it.
I pray for signs… anything for hope. Keep looking for those signs. Blue jay feathers on the path, a bird flying into the house, my Scottish superstition awakens. I think if I toss the salt over my left shoulder everything will be okay – maybe the world will settle down, because right now, it’s a scary place and maybe always was and we were lucky. I’m not sure. But I do know that the fear we feel now is real, that this is not some bad dream or delusion.
I can’t stand the news anymore, because it was horrible before, and now it’s worse and when I was a kid, we had car bombs and terrorist groups all around where we lived and I thought I had made a clean escape, but now I see that we just repeat the same patterns and there are no signs. If we go on like this, I see only the approaching emptiness. We are destroying each other.
We pass through this life so quickly, almost too quickly for it to be satisfying, yet it is satisfaction that we seek, and by god, let’s seek it now. Not tomorrow. Now. I know that you cannot take back what has been done. That not knowing is worse than knowing, no matter what the circumstance. I think of parents of missing children, those who have been never found. They often say when they find a body that it’s some kind of relief. Awful and tragic, but at least they know they say.
Someone tells me, Occupy the space you are in. Meaning, occupy and fully inhabit your life. Change it. Own it. I will put up photographs. I will make the bathroom a sanctuary with neatly folded towels and bubble bath and things that smell good. I will keep the furniture polished and the floors clean. I will vow to cook for myself, because these days, I’m barely a size four and I would be grateful for a size six. I’m beginning to look like I feel: tired, out of it, a person who has given up.
I vow to spend more time downstairs, away from the comfort of my desk and the pages of my books. I vow to not retreat to the furthest corner of the house, which I have been doing for months, sitting on the northeast corner of the bedroom floor where I sit by the cracked open window, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea like some kind of freak. I vow to stop devising ways to get out of social obligations. I vow to stop avoiding people and to confront this feeling of numbness and nonchalance. I vow to polish the hardwood floor downstairs. I vow to quit dwelling on this shit.
My friend is right about revelation. But I believe I am closer when I speak of revolution. Because only a revolution will bring about the changes that are needed. The truth is, I have curled up with my grief like a security blanket. Afraid that if I drop it, I no longer have any real. If we lose our grief, our pain, our anger, we no longer engage in those painful conversations – what comes in their place? Anything? I think we have been too afraid to find out. And perhaps this grief has built a plexiglass wall around each of us and we are unable to reach the other without accessing this old pain. The sad truth is, I don’t think we know who the other is anymore, because this is all we have known for so long and perhaps we are afraid that there is nothing there at all.
There are times when it is hardest to be around those we love the most – and we all know that. We are to them and they to us a constant reminder of so much that has gone wrong. But our job now is to rediscover who are on our own terms. Playing the role of the hurt and angry person for so long, the one who wants like hell to understand, the fragile, tearful, tiny thing-non-person that in our deepest fear, we believe we are; god, it’s tiring. I’m so tired of this shit. And I’m tired, too, of playing the alternate role of pissy intellect. Why does everything have to be so fucking defined? It’s far harder to actually get out of this shit and just focus on what you need to do and move on.
Just move on. Not everything warrants a pithy comment.