A Year Without Ghosts

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Resolve.

I scrawl a bunch of words on little slips of paper. Names. Places. Feelings. Each small note, something I want to leave behind. This year, along with the previous 7 years, are folded among them. I’ll burn them up before the year is out.

I’m not one for New Year’s celebrations or resolutions. However well intentioned, they are always laced with disappointment.

But, this year something is different. Tectonic plates have shifted. My position has been compromised and something needs to change. I’ve made mistakes — big ones — on a number of fronts. And, everything has culminated in a literal and figurative move — away from myself. I’ve failed myself. 2015 marks an algorithm I cannot decipher. An un-crackable code. A failure I cannot correct. There is no bandaging this. I can no longer reassemble my pieces and make some new, refurbished mosaic. — There is only leaving it behind.

“Goodbye” is much harder than “We’ll fix this.” It’s why I fight it. I stay in relationships, at jobs, in the company of toxic people — too long. Always avoiding goodbye. Harsh. Permanent. A boundary that cannot be breached. Cold turkey. The difference between resolve and resolution. It’s devastating.

I moved to Oregon in 2009 with incredible spirit and the promise of more to come. My love. My dreams. I became a pioneer of myself. Free. I moved in and out of my own independence with trepidation and joy. I was fearless in my own creation of myself. — I was to become the woman I had dreamed up on the floor of a railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while I was 25, sitting on a mattress without a box spring. And, it was a thrill.

But Oregon, with all it’s beauty and freedom — took everything back. Piece by piece. My spirit. My love. My dreams. First, untethered and so sure of myself, then, suddenly, a captive of something I could not see. With each passing year, I found myself battling new ghosts.

Lost there, in my beautiful city of beautiful bridges, I was a quiet wind that blew in-between the pines that wrap around Reed College. But, the rain and damp sank so far into my my bones, they began to rot. So, I took what I could salvage and I fled. Back to Brooklyn — a place I hardly recognize, save for these same ghosts who, now, haunt me on street corners and in subway cars.

I watch seasons bleed into one another from the window of my parent’s house. I try to remember what it was that girl sitting on the mattress wanted. I think of little else. But, the more I look for her — her dreams — the more bereft I become. She is lost.

Resolve is this — I am done looking for someone who is gone.

I write my own name on a scrap of paper and place it with the others. She’s not here anymore. And now, there is enough paper for a nice, slow burn. When it’s all ash, I’ll scatter it like the dead. Carbon for the Earth.

For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to it — The New Year. — One where I let go. Where I find the courage to say goodbye to that which anchors me in the past. Where I light the way of new dreams with the lessons learned in pursuit of old ones. Where I release the ghost of the girl I was and make room for the real woman I have become.

A New Year, where we find ourselves, always — alive — in the here and now.

 

 

Artwork: Cover art from Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now”

 

 

 

 

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Everyday Love

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Love shows up in the strangest places.

It’s the Monday before Christmas and I’m walking down 3rd Avenue. I have a chesty cough and my chapped hand clings to a prescription for antibiotics.

“Bronchitis,” the doctor told me matter-of-factly after listening to one, heavy breath with his cold stethoscope pressed to my back. He wished me a “Merry Christmas” as he ushered me out of the exam room and into the hallway where he pulled another chart from the cracked, plastic bracket on the wall.  — They’re running out of room at the inn.

On the avenue, I let out a good, phlegm-y cough. My lungs loosen up, and suddenly, a good energy closes in on me. Bay Ridge shoppers scatter in every direction, colorful tubes of wrapping paper poking out from the tops of their over-sized shopping bags. A man in a JETS sweatshirt yells into his cellphone in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Whatddya mean, yous got the fuckin’ Star Wars pajamas? I just waited in line a fuckin’ hour for these fuckin’ things! Jesus Christ Lorraine.” He lets out a sigh, and then, he laughs and raises his right thumb and forefinger to his lips, taking a final pull off his cigarette before flicking it to the curb in an explosion of sparks. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”

An Arab kid holds the door for me as I walk into Rite Aid on 78th Street, and, when I thank him, he tells me, “No problem lady. Don’t worry about it,” like he’s a member of the Rat Pack. In the line to pick up my prescription, there’s a toddler in a two-tiered stroller shoving Fruit Loops wildly into his face. He smiles at me, rainbow sludge oozing out of the corners of his mouth. I wave at him covertly and when he laughs his mother turns around to look at me suspiciously.

“What’s your last name, honey?” the pharmacy cashier asks me when I finally get to the front of the line. I tell her and she lets out a laugh like tires on gravel. “You Irish, you’ve got the craziest names! What’s your first name honey?” I don’t bother telling her it’s Scottish. “Sarah.” She hands me a white paper bag with a yellow sticker. “Feel better honey. Happy Holidays. Next in line, come on over honey!”

At the produce place on the corner of Ovington Avenue, I’m in line behind a Greek lady who buys four pints of peeled garlic cloves from the Chinese woman wearing blue, latex gloves. They both laugh, sharing some sort of inside joke. — And, I wonder what the fuck she’s planning on cooking, because whatever it is — I want some.

Suddenly, all these little things feel like something big. And, that’s how I know love is edging it’s way back into my life. It always begins with small, innocuous moments. Joy hidden in the bits and pieces of our humanity. I step back and observe it — my Brooklyn. I remind myself that I don’t have to be anything. I’ll just watch this beauty fall around me. And, it doesn’t mean I have to stay here, it just means I have to be here now.

Look. Customers sipping their coffee. My cat curled up on top of my feet. Listen. The murmur of my parent’s conversation downstairs. Sirens wailing out on their way to a fire. Breathe. Someone’s making pasta sauce and its aroma drifts through the window, out onto the street. The clean scent of the pine wreath my mother has fastened to the front door.

I haven’t bought a single gift. Depressed and bed ridden does not a good Christmas-shopper make. But, on the walk home, I convince myself that three days will be plenty of time. I don’t mind waiting in lines. Would you believe I like standing there, watching everyone else’s story unfold? Because, I do. — Especially when I am tired of replaying my own.

I arrive home and I find my mother has left apples out for me on the kitchen counter. She’s placed them neatly on a paper towel in front of the coffee pot.

Love isn’t always wrapped up under the tree.

It’s the kid who’s getting two pairs of Star Wars pajamas this year. It’s an Arab boy with the swagger of Frank Sinatra. It’s macerated Fruit Loops staining the corners of a shrewd toddler’s mouth — and it’s the mother who’ll fiercely protect him. It’s a cashier who calls everyone “Honey.” It’s a Greek lady with a fuck-ton of garlic and it’s a Chinese lady with blue gloves who knows something I don’t.

It’s making my way back home.

And, it’s finding apples waiting for me on the kitchen counter.

 

 

Artwork: “Apple Heart”; http://buhrena.deviantart.com/art/Apple-Heart-178646080

 

Radio Silence

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7:54AM. The sun hits the off-white apartment building behind my parent’s house. Wide awake, I stare blankly at my computer screen. — I hate this blog.

I’ve plotted countless ways to end it, this “project.” I’m still unsure how it continues, now, an almost two-year long endeavor. — How can I bow out gracefully, I wonder? A poignant, little story about nothing at all? A dramatic goodbye? Or, maybe — I just disappear. No post, no nothing. Radio silence.

In 2014, while my ex moved erratically between his heroin binges, I committed myself to writing a weekly blog. I needed an anchor. A piece of my own life that kept me outside it. Something I could show up for — and I could count on being alive. Something quiet and uncomplicated. Something that didn’t throw things at me when it was frustrated. And now, as I sit here contemplating throwing something at my laptop, I think, maybe, I understand him a little better.

I’ve battled the urge to abandon this blog before. I’m pretty sure whatever “Saucy” I had left in me, has long since dried up. I lay in bed and wonder where, exactly, it is that I’ve gone? I chase my own tail. I can hardly locate myself long enough to write 250 words on the subject.

Each week, I advise — and maybe advise is the wrong word — I inform people that sobriety is more than putting down a glass or a needle or a pipe. It’s an unpredictable, and often unpleasant, choice to be aware. Aware of the good. Aware of the bad. Aware of the unassigned.

A brave choice to be present.

It isn’t about the substance at all. It’s about grit. Choosing to be fully there — engaged — even when your inclination is always to do the opposite. Grueling. Tiring. Painful. But, also, incredibly Beautiful. I have experienced sobriety in profound ways. Joy and numbing sadness — I did not imagine this.

I’d tell you that I wouldn’t trade sobriety for the world. — But, the truth is, because of sobriety, I know the world isn’t mine to trade.

There is a part of me that wishes I could end it today. Radio silence.

But, a little bit of truth remains — junkie boyfriend or none — I am in need of an anchor. A piece of my own life that keeps me outside it. Something I can show up for — and I can count on being alive.

Something quiet and uncomplicated.

I watch as the morning sun draws the lines of the fire escape down the side of the building across the way and — I write.

 

Artwork: Nancy Herman, “Fire Escape Shadow”

 

 

 

Light Me Up, Santa

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I want a cigarette so fuckin’ bad, I can taste it.

In the coffee shop, I stand at my post in the window, watching passers-by stroll down the avenue, little breaths of smoke trailing behind them. Their mouths, happy, little chimneys.

Camel. American Spirit. Marlboro. Kool. Newport. And, my old brand, Parliament. — The bodega across the street, with bright signs flashing, taunts me in the morning darkness.

But, I allow myself to be distracted by holiday joy. Inside our coffee-fueled-snow-palace-workshop, the scent of java wafts magically about as my coworkers pour the new, limited-time-lattés — Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread, and Maple Spice — into tall, white paper cups. We stand at attention, turbo-caffeinated elves, under a cascade of twinkling lights and dangling crochet snowflakes.

From open to close, our soundtrack is Michael Bublé’s Holiday Pandora Station. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” he croons, as a man jogs by wearing shorts and hoodie. Yes, it’s 60 fucking degrees outside, and — if we’re being honest — it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. But, I’m trying here.

During my break, I want nothing more than to stand at the back door, sipping a plain-old-soy-latte, sucking down three glorious Parliaments in quick succession.

‘Tis the season! — And really, that’s the thing I try to remember. — It’s just seasonal stress. Holidays make hard things harder. And, I remind myself when I can think of nothing but nicotine’s sweet kiss — cravings are just a chemical warning. — Ease up. Relax. Breathe.

Some days, I think I may as well have a cigarette — because breathing isn’t easy either way. It’s hard to be patient, waiting on change. Placing one foot in front of the other. It’s slow. And, the holidays are a pine-scented reminder that time is passing far more quickly than I’d like. — I’m not sure I’m ready for 2016 just yet. Not sure that I want to concede to another disappointing year. — “Come on Sarah, it’s nothing a latté can’t fix,” my favorite coworker tells me, steaming soy milk with an elfish grin painted across her face.

As Michael Bublé, fondly known in the coffee shop as “The Bubés,” really leans in to the chorus of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town”, I am reminded that — other than a nice, long smoke break — there’s not much I need this Christmas. I got my wish — I’m back home. And, I’ve got it pretty good here. Depressed, sure, a bit. But, I’m lucky. — And, I know it.

Things will fall into place. Somehow. Eventually. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I remind myself to be grateful. — To be a good girl.

This year, my list is short. All I want is my spark back.

So, go on Santa — light me up.

 

 

 

That Antique Mojo

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I had it. I lost it. I need to find it again.

Mojo.

And, not just any mojo. That antique mojo.

I’ve been feeling as good as dead for months. But, I know from experience — it’s possible to rediscover yourself. To uncover that thing you’ve lost. It’ll be a little rusty. Its hinges will need a little WD-40, for sure. But, rest assured — good mojo, however ancient, can look like new with a little spit’n’polish.

I imagine my insides look something like an apartment on an episode of hoarders. — Dusty, disorganized, used up, dingy, and dinged. And, yes, maybe there are a few dead mice. — That doesn’t mean its not worth fixing up. I’ll admit, I’ve been stock-piling my emotional garbage for awhile now. But, I don’t have to trash it all. Right? I mean. Really. Seriously. — Don’t throw that out.

Has no one seen Antiques Roadshow? Come on people — cut open the back of your proverbial paintings. That’s where you’ll find the treasure map that was hidden years ago — when things were good. A message from another life. Another era. A happier time. I’ll bet money it’s still there. Though, it’s hard to be certain with all the looters that have been in and out of my head of late. But, I’m like a motherfucking squirrel. — I know how to hide a nut.

So, I suit up. I brave the unsteady ladder and ascend into my head space. I stumble around, grasping for the string that’s tied to a light bulb somewhere in this shit-hole of an attic.

Sure, the air’s old and stale up here. But, it’s almost winter. So I put on a old sweater that I don’t mind getting proper-filthy and I throw open the window. Sun streams in and holds a cloud of glistening dust in its golden spotlight. Cold gusts of air upset the dust bunnies that have been collecting like plaque in the arteries of my tired and cynical heart.

I take it in. Assess the mess. And, it’s not as bad as I thought. It just requires starting. Beginning where I am. — Clearing. Out. The. Crap. — Finding the mojo.

Tired of being pissed at myself, I decide to ease up on the criticism and laugh at this mess instead. That’s the biggest part. — Acceptance. Walking right into it. Getting dirty. Because, that’s when it happens. That’s when you stumble upon it.

Under some old newspapers and a boxed up game of Trivial Pursuit from 1973, I find it. — A well stashed nut. — My mojo.

And sure, it’s a little worse for the wear. But, whaddyaknow?It’s salvageable.

Truth be told, with a little heart — most things are.

 

Artwork: “Tales from the Hidden Attic”; By: Michael V. Vinalo; http://www.artgypsytales.com/2014/04/michael-vmanalo-surrealism-fantasy.html