The Other Shoe

photo(16)

Imagine it: Everything works out.

It’s a fantasy that every alcoholic/addict has at some point. Each of us has been tied to the pendulum on the downswing, and, almost always,  we have learned to travel at high velocities — hurtling ourselves toward impending disaster. Catastrophe has been bequeathed to us in perpetuity.  So, these days, I find myself wondering — what is the meaning of this? This uncharted feeling. Is it — happiness?

No. It can’t be.

For a drunk, it’s expected that, with sobriety, the release from some amount of psychic pain is imminent. Certain issues — more often than not — resolve automatically as a result of the whiskey-fueled-inferno being extinguished. But, do not mistake a temporary resolution for normalcy. No. — It has been my long standing belief that Alkies, such as myself, never graduate to “hunky-dory status.” There is no way to truly leave behind the murky half-memories of a crazed existence — those spells of insanity made possible only by excessive quantities of bourbon, angst, and the constant threat of emotional squalor. This “hunky-dory”? — A myth. I’m certain of it. Or, am I?

I tap my foot nervously while I sit, comfortably, at my kitchen table. I’ve been living here, in this apartment, for almost three years. Even with nothing hanging on my walls, there is a sense of permanence. A stability. A reassuring goodness that, today, is decidedly — off. I woke up this morning  grappling with an unsettling feeling that — I do not feel unsettled. A notion so foreign that, in its ease, lies its own inexplicable difficulty.

When does the other shoe drop?

Is this faith? — Moving in and out of my own equilibrium? I hang tight to some invisible force that tethers me.  A strong and strange pull that’s enough to carry the full weight of me. I’m moving into an upswing — I think. I feel my feet release from gravity.

This is it — a new feeling — an uncomfortably good one too.

On the way out the door, I lace up my sneakers, real tight — just in case.

 

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dop·pel·gäng·er

Photo Sep 16, 9 18 24 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday morning, I changed seven times.

When I looked up from buttoning the shirt I would unbutton seconds later, I expected to see someone else staring back at me in the mirror. But — it’s always her.

I turned to face my profile and pull at the bottom of my shirt. I was running late and didn’t have time to change again, but — I did anyway.

I’m not sure when this happened — but my reflection has become some strange sort of foe. It appears we agree on simple things like: cotton versus polyester, but, the clothes hang off us differently. Colors distract us.  Most of our wardrobe is black. And her expression is always sullen — to match our sweaters. But, things shift. I’m starting to see colors explode through the seams. I feel her fight the smile that creeps up at the corners of my mouth.

Across the river, at work, her reflection finds me again. She glares out from the glass doors of my office building, melting in the morning light like a Dalí painting. I shift my red tote bag around my torso to cover my waist. There’s no hiding from her though — she sees through things. Totes. Camisoles. Layers of mascara. Thick, glossy nail polish. Geeky frames. Bras. Boots. She catches me at angles that others do not.

My own disconnect still surprises me. She’s an imposter. I can’t read her.

I want her to look some other way. I want her to laugh more. I miss that — my own laughter and how it escapes wildly — a thousand big bangs imploding in my chest. Suddenly, I want to laugh at everything. I bite the side of my cheek.

I check my teeth in the ladies’ room mirror. A big, toothy smile. Is that happiness? Laughter? I’m not sure I’d even recognize it. But, truthfully, there’s not much of anything I recognize these days — It leaves me space to feel something new.

On the drive home, my eyes meet hers in the rear view. I decide only one of us will survive the summer. And — it’s me.

I turn up the stereo so loud that the bass shakes the little, white cat that’s glued to my dash. In a line of cars, waiting to cross the Ross Island Bridge, I pull my hair loose from its tight-tied bun. My auburn locks fall softly around my ears and the dying wind of summer kicks them up behind my headrest. I pull off my cardigan, in my eighth and final costume change of the day, and let my left shoulder bake in the sun.

Today, I’m showing up. — Myself. Alone. Take it or leave it. I dump my doppelgänger on the West bank of the Willamette.

As I make my way over the bridge, Mt. Hood welcomes me back to the East side. I drive up Division and turn down 16th Ave. I let myself get lost myself in a maze of circular streets, crowded with babies and bikers. I pull over. I turn off the engine. — I think I’m alone now.

Seat belt still fastened, with five minutes to spare, I throw my head back and I laugh, hard, before making my solo debut.

 

Maps

Photo Sep 07, 4 45 37 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, I celebrated two years clean and sober.

I once thought that sobriety would forever be the beacon, lighting my way. Yet now, more than ever, I find myself in the dark.

It has taken two years to learn that there is no way of knowing the path.

I do know this — Sobriety is not the road — it is the mile marker. Sobriety is the daily reminder: There is light. Where my own light comes from, and how it continues to shine, I do not know. But, it emanates from a place inside of me that, two years ago, I would have denied existed. Today, it glows hot like a coal.

In my second year of sobriety, I have shown up  for and stepped away from things and people. I’ve taken action and made decisions that once would have required copious amounts of whiskey. I have watched moments of my life unravel and then bloom with a happiness I still do not understand. And I have let go of my still beating heart, like a balloon, and watched it float away into an unforgiving sky, wondering if I will ever feel it again — love.

I have learned that we do not recover from some things. There are some wounds that will never cease to sting. But, if we treat them with care, acknowledge them with honesty, and bandage them properly — they cease to slow us down. Instead, their momentary aches become reminders of who we are, who we were, and who we are becoming. My scars are the road map. I wear them like the tattoos I do not have.

I have learned to smile with my teeth. I do not hide behind my own inadequacy. Perhaps the most poignant lesson I have learned in these past two years is: We are all inadequate. This isn’t a flaw. This is a challenge. This is the opportunity life affords us — to rise up and offer a fragment of greatness,  despite our lacking. To create from a place of authenticity, not perfection. To stand alone with the knowledge that, no matter who surrounds us, we remain cogs in a beautiful machine. To honor our worth. To step away from darkness, no matter how fervent its plea to take us over.

Joni Mitchell sings — “We are star dust. We are golden. And, we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” So, I walk in my maze of hedges. I meet dead ends, where I collapse in frustration. But, I stand up. I walk again. Because, I know, I am already in the garden. I can see — on the other side of this wall of leaves — something waits for me. Light gets in through the cracks. I know. One of these days, I will turn at the right corner and I will emerge, unguarded. Luminous.

So I stand here. At the second mile marker, on this — my road.

Two years of nothing. Two years of everything. Baba Ram Dass, you brilliant motherfucker, you called it. I begin to understand the many ways we are infinite. I run my fingers over my scars. Old and new. Rough and smooth. My maps.

Behind me, everything is illuminated. Before me, my heart casts out its high-beams on the dark highway.

 

And, to whatever power it is that’s listening, I whisper:

For the light. For the road. For the maps.

Thank you.

 

Fowl Advice

ducks

The world is full of quacks. I’m starting to think this is a good thing.

Every morning, I walk over a small bridge that crosses the stream running through the local college campus. And, it has become my custom to stop and acknowledge these quacks — the campus ducks. There is a pair to whom I am partial. Mallards. They glide downstream until their rustled feathers are halted by the usual obstructions — fallen trees, large, mossy rocks, and other, floating fowl. They are un-phased by delays.

For a long time, I paid no attention to the feathered duo. I walked too fast —  my heart rate up,  burning my calories, set in my circular trajectory. But, one morning, as the ducks honked, announcing the dawn’s return, I flashed back to a memory of my grandfather:

Many years before he died, I sat in his living room. I’d taken a bar of soap from his bathroom and hid behind his couch with a wooden mallard duck that he’d displayed on his coffee table. I was a small child, and I had decided that “washing” the duck by grinding soap into its carved feathers would be a most helpful thing to do. When my grandfather discovered me, he was stern. His ducks weren’t toys. So, we stood at the kitchen sink together and he carefully removed the soap from the mallard’s etched wings.

In sobriety, I have always gone full speed ahead — no time to observe quiet waters. I quit my job. I went to rehab. I hit 12-Step — hard. I got a new job. I did the work. I never stopped to look around me. I never stopped to ask for guidance — especially not from quacks. I waited to be told the truth. I waited on orders that never came. And, when I lost my footing, I waited for a hand to reach down and pull me up. I never expected I’d learn my lesson from a pair of ducks. Yet, every morning, they honk out their reminder: “Slow down, be thoughtful in how you make your way around the trees and the rocks and other quacks that deter you.”

As the sun summits the tallest pines, I peer over the bridge’s railing. I look for my grandfather there — the mallard. I think that maybe his loyal companion is my grandmother. She died before I was born. But, I’ve been told how much my grandfather loved her — heard stories of his broken heart after she died — he was never quite the same. At his funeral, my voice cracked as I gave his eulogy. I hoped, if spirits do live on, that theirs were together.

Angels and idealism, I’m told, are for children. But, I still look for signs and symbols. I wait for messages. I have been called a seeker. I’ve been told, time and again: No external thing I seek will fix my broken things inside. So, on someone else’s word, I stopped looking. — But, the ducks keep showing up.

While home on vacation, atop a pile of cleaning products my mother had put aside, I saw a small, circular piece of stained glass. It appeared to be one, dark blue piece at first glance, but when I held it to the light, there they sat — a pair of mallard ducks. I asked my mother where she’d found it — It was from my grandfather’s house.

Sometimes, it’s best to dismiss the things we’ve been told. There are words and there are things that can be seen. I see the mallard. He is real. Visible. Audible. He invites me to remember the things that have come before and the things that linger. He reminds me: There is most certainly a spirit that lives outside myself, sent to mend the broken things. We are not alone.

At the bridge, I stop and breathe. I let the honking fowl punctuate the dawn. I remember my grandfather’s laughter. I embrace a childish ideal. If we remain seekers, there will always be ducks to find. So, I peer over the bridge’s edge and watch them. Rustled feathers. Gliding happily downstream. Together.