The Red Room

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I spent my lunch break in the self-help section at Powell’s City of Books.

And, I know. It’s bad. But, it’s how I roll when I’m in a rut.

In sobriety, I’ve learned pain is predictable. I know when it’s coming. And, I know what to expect. There are levels of rut. In 12-Step, when you’re still sweating alcohol and amphetamines, they tell you, “It will always be peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.” — It’s mostly valleys.

So, back to the self-help section. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up there. I know I started in the Red Room — the travel writing section. I was reading David W. McFadden’s An Innocent In Ireland. It was really good, too. I was totally planning on buying it.

But, I was standing there next to this intellectual-type-guy with horn-rimmed glasses. He was paging through some book on Greece, and I found myself getting pissed off. Like, really pissed off. And, I had no reason to hate this guy. Absolutely. None. But, I absolutely did. He was breathing too loudly and he was turning the pages too recklessly. One moment, I’m in this pub in Ireland, and the next, I’m about to lose my shit — thinking, “Screw this fuckin’ guy, and, screw Mykonos!” At that point, I just couldn’t take it any longer. McFadden went back on the shelf. I’d come back for him later.

Next thing I knew, I was two rooms over — in the thick of it — Self-Help: General. I’m standing there reading Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. And, fuuuuuuuucccckkk. It’s good. It’s Mykonos beaches good.

I’m on page twenty. And, I seriously I have to get back to work. But, with those twenty pages under my belt, I’m walking out of the store, then onto Eleventh Avenue, then up Flanders Street and — I’ve totally bought into it — Goddammit! — I CAN heal my life!

I can see it. This hysteria. It’s just the rut. A big, long valley. It’s the same place where I always get stuck. Post-break-up and pre-break-through. And, when I’m here — I read a self-help book. And, it’s bad. It’s awful. It’s a waste of ink and trees. And, as I’m reading it, I’m thinking, “God, I hate myself.” Because, I kinda do. — That’s how you end up in the self-help section.

But, then, it happens. — I help myself.

The thing is, there comes a point where we completely detach. Someone has to talk us into changing. And yes, sometimes it ends up being a hack who’s spiritual abundance is superseded by monetary gain. But, sometimes, hacks can make good points. I should know.

So, I do the rut-thing. I’m in bed, with the blinds closed, for days. I watch terrible rom-coms until I start to smell and the cat begins to pity me. Eventually, I convince myself to shower and take a walk. And, that’s when it happens.

I get back to dreaming. The sun kisses my vampire skin. I see the hot-pink flowers that don’t exist on the East Coast. There’s a calico cat rolling in a patch of long grass by the hippie-guy’s house. And — I’m here and I’m alive and I can change.

And, that’s how it happens.

Go to the Red Room. Meet McFadden for a pint. Escape the horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing- Grecian-jerk. Lose your place in time and space. And, return to consciousness with Louise Hay.

Twenty pages later. — No, I haven’t healed my life. But, I’ve helped myself.

And, that’s the hardest part. Helping your heart. Convincing yourself that you’re close.

That it’s coming. — A peak. — Change.

 

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Bitter(s).

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I sit at a bar shaped like a horseshoe and I order soda with Angostura bitters.

My 12-Step friends will hold the bitters against me — the same way they do when I lick the side of the vanilla extract bottle while I’m baking. I decide I don’t care.

I’ve been waiting for this.

I sit across from a hipster-geek in a wool, skull cap. The weather’s too warm for that, but, in Portland, no one cares. The bartender showcases a tequila bottle I don’t recognize for two drunk women at the end of the bar. They snack on fried food and chew with their mouths open and they don’t realize how old they look, bat-bat-batting their eyelashes and laugh-laugh-laughing at something the bartender says, but, everyone knows without hearing — it isn’t funny. Their husbands are outside smirking and smoking cigarettes. They turn to gawk at a group of three, tall twenty-somethings who walk by in patterned leggings that hug their perky, little asses.

I hammer my straw down into the ice, like I’m breaking something up. I stir — like there’s whiskey at the bottom of my glass. There isn’t. But, I continue eyeballing the good shit on the shelf.

I pass this bar every day. I look in its big, rectangular windows. Behind my own reflection, I see smiling lips that leave blots of red lipstick on the edges of tumblers and the tips of little, black straws. I wanted this — to sit here. To feel it. Soft leather. My purse dangling from a hook at my knees. I wanted to breathe out. — A release. A homecoming. My heels drawn up against the sides of a bar stool. — I’ve waited.

The perfect conditions. The right amount of cloud cover. The slice of evening right before the Saturday crowds filter in through the angled, double doors. A hum, a quiet energy — like something might happen. But it doesn’t.

I can’t explain it. — It’s not what I wanted.

The hipster-geek doesn’t look up from his smart phone, even when his hand searches along the bar for his drink, which, I am certain, is an old fashioned. The older women, who think they’re young, wave their hands back and forth. Pinot gris sloshing at the sides of their glasses, just barely contained. The bartender reaches for his bar rag, but, in the end — doesn’t need it.

I ask for my bill.

“All you had was soda. Right? We don’t charge for soda.” The bartender walks away from me. So, I thank his back. This is what being castrated feels like — I imagine. Suddenly, I’m worth even less than the dollar it cost for me to keep the seat warm.

Whatever it was I was hoping I’d feel — I know now — I can’t anymore.

The chewing, cackling hags. The lechers with cigarettes that dangle from their lips. The bartender’s display of insincerity and faded tattoos. The smell of spilled beer and dirty mop water. It’s hardly a return to the days I used to live for. — His hand grabbing for mine, while we poured over menus, the sun sinking into another river. Here, I’m lonely. And, the wood of this bar is scratched.

At home, I crawl into bed and I lay very still. I bury a feeling I didn’t know I still had.

I just wanted a moment in the bar. But, the moment’s gone.

Rain taps the window and the cat swats the venetian blind and I miss things I haven’t missed in a long time. Adam. And New York. And our railroad apartment. And they way the sun spilled over Nassau Avenue in the summer when I was twenty-five.

A Mother of Felines

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Mother’s Day. My cat paws me awake at 7:23AM. She didn’t buy me flowers.

I call my mother, who’s shuttling my father’s mother to church. I open Facebook and find it inundated with pictures of mothers, memorials for mothers, and sentimental notes to mothers — my own included. I walk into the kitchen and I make myself banana-oat pancakes. I, am mother to nothing.

It appears that everyone, especially my peer group, has begun to populate the Earth at an alarming rate. They all wax poetic on the joys and challenges of parenthood. — Yet another club for which I am currently ineligible. It’s middle school all over again, except this time the popular girls have even bigger tits and haute-couture vomit-shammies.

The thought alone makes me want to get drunk.

For a moment, I panic. — What does it mean if I never become a mother?

I imagine myself alone in a dusty room filled with piles of hoarded vegan cookbooks, old mail, and unswept cat litter. My hair is silver. And the most color I’ve seen in years in the purple rhododendron that’s blooming outside my living room window. I think to myself — I don’t want to die alone.

Sometimes, it feels like that’s the only reason I feel drawn to motherhood at all. I can’t be alone at the end of days. But, as I sit on the couch sopping up the last of the maple syrup with my final bite of pancake, I realize, mother or not, I might end up alone anyway.

In the best of relationships — I’ve always felt alone. There is always an immeasurable space that remains vacant, lost, unfulfilled. It’s why I drank. It’s why I still want to drink. It’s why yesterday, as I walked home from work in the warmth and the sun, I slowed at the entrance of every bar I passed and made an excellent argument for just. one. drink.

Fill it up. Allow yourself. Imbibe on this — motherhood. Uisce Beatha.

Life is about filling spaces. I’m not sure what it is, but, there must be something that can fill us all. Maybe it is drinks. Maybe it’s motherhood.Β  Maybe it’s a kind of love I just don’t know yet. Or, maybe, it’s waking up at 7:23AM to set out salmon treats for the one creature that has tolerated my various states of existence for as long as I’ve known her.

When I give the cat one treat too many, she vomits on the floor. I wipe it up with paper towels. — I have no fancy shammies.

She looks up at me, guilty, with her big, sad eyes before moving to the couch where she continues her ongoing project — pulling foam from the armrest.

“Please,” I say, “don’t do that.” With that, she pulls her needle-sharp claw from the shredded red fabric and glares up at me with disdain before sauntering, nonchalantly, back to her post in the bedroom.

In the end, for better — for worse, we are all mothers to something.

 

 

[Image taken from I Am Lil’ Bub]

Full Dis(closure)

PrideandPrejudice (1)

I spent my weekend vomiting. Et cetera.

Portland’s infamous stomach bug claimed me as yet another one of its victims.

So, if you find any typos — Whatever. I don’t give fuck. — I’m struggling to to keep my eyes open after a long, dehydrated day at work, hustling students around a career fair.

However, I did have a poignant, little moment as I exited the building at 6:15PM, nearing collapse. One of the bratty girls, who I’ve never been too fond of, sat against the steps and whined to her comrade: “I know it’s for the best. We just weren’t working. I don’t know if he even loved me. But, I just wanted some closure. What a fucker.”

Usually, I find the vapid complaints of all the 20-something students I work with amusing. Their drama reminds me of the many reasons being an adult is so fucking amazing. Their day-to-day bullshit is proof that rising above the petty nonsense of young-womanhood is totally worth it. But, today, I sort of wanted to sit down on that step with Bratty McBratkins and commiserate.

I hear lots of women my age talk about it: Closure. Getting it. Wanting it. It’s a word that’s followed me around like a sad puppy through all my break-ups. I never get it. I always want it. Like a pouty tween, I too want to sulk with my head in my hands. But, I don’t. Big girls know better. Or do they?

I mull it over. And, I decide I’m not sure.

What I do know is — you have to say what you need to say when you have the audience. Once the show is over, it’s too late. Most of us seek closure way after the fact. It’s the band-aid we try to affix to something that we’ve already broken. Real closure is preemptive. And, it takes two.

Sometimes you don’t get closure. It’s that simple. You can’t always get what you want. Big girl stuff. You write a note. You send an email. Maybe you’re a creeper, and you show up somewhere to ambush your ex and act like it’s a coincidence. But, even then. — No dice. The end is much like it was in the beginning, before things totally sucked — it requires two consenting adults.

Tired, weak, and completely puked out, I walk down the remaining steps and out to the front of the building. I can still hear Bratty McBratkins whining. And, it dawns on me that, maybe, I’m a bigger girl than I thought I was. This time around, I don’t really care about closure. I realize — closure isn’t a goodbye. It isn’t feeling better. — It’s accepting what’s done. And you’ll only find that acceptance within.

Full disclosure: I wish there were more words to run over in my head. I wish he’d said “Goodbye.” Better still, I wish he’d said “Don’t go.” But, when you walk, you don’t get to decide what happens next. You don’t get to decide if he thinks you’re worth fighting for — you can only decide that you’ll fight for yourself. Closure is like those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. You won’t always pick the best ending. I’m too old to sit on the steps and whine about it. It’s done.

Tomorrow, Ms. McBratkins will have a cookie waiting for her in my office. Because, I get it. I may be heartsick, but I’m not heartless. And, my 20-something gal-pal may not be able to process her heartache just yet, but, God-bless-‘er with her young, lil’ metabolism — she can still processes the sugar and carbs like a champ.