Strangely Stable, Sarah of Troy

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Water pooled in the streets of Albany, streaming out like rapids from beneath giant piles of filthy snow. Under the sidewalk, I could hear it, rushing, beneath my feet.

It’s hard to say if Spring has truly arrived, or if this reprieve is just another one of Winter’s ruses, but, in moments like these, the only thing to do is accept the gift that you’ve been given and let it bring you whatever joy it can offer. So, I took several walks, all in Troy, NY, the city of little bridges — the place I’ll soon be calling home.

With a friend, I wandered downtown, along the old, brownstone-lined streets and then, beside vacant, boarded-up warehouses by the river. My coat fell, hot and heavy, on my shoulders.

I found myself thinking about peace. — How to get it. What it will require of me. Why, so often, I manage to distance myself from it. My creative drive, always finding new ways to avoid it. — I’ve known so little peace that I’m not always sure what it looks like, but, I have learned that you’ll never find it walking alone, without purpose or reason. Growing up in New York City taught me to keep my head down and my pace quick. But, walking along the Hudson, I was reminded that I have no reason to hurry. In the light of a new sun, I allowed myself the rare occasion to feel that, maybe, I am at peace. Maybe, I feel great.

***          ***          ***

In my new landlord’s office, he added a special clause in the lease to allow my cat to live in my new apartment, and, as I initialed the amendment, I thought about her, back in Brooklyn, laid out in the sun on my Mother’s carpet. I had the thought that she was probably happy too, and almost just as warm as I. I knew, even with the three hour drive between us, that sun would still manage to touch us both.

***          ***          ***

I tell my friend how I believe everything is connected. — But, I didn’t always feel that way.

It was one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. — To take special care, because everything is reflected in everything else. — But now I understand. I see it everywhere. How Happiness begets Happiness. How negativity and dread beget more of the same. When I first got sober in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, old men told me, between puffs on their cigarettes: “Seeing the good in everything  is a skill, and some days, it’s one that’s not very easy to exercise. But, young lady, you can save yourself some heartache — by doing it anyway.” And, nearing five years later, I’ve begun to reap the fruit of those seeds, the same ones those old men helped me to sow, all those years ago.

Since my cousin and her husband welcomed me into their home in September, I have worked to adjust my mindset harder than I ever have in my life. I have stepped out of every comfortable place that I’ve found myself standing. And, as a result, I have discovered incredible new rhythms in the beat of my heart. Just six months later, I can feel all that work in my legs and arms. The old men were right. I am tougher than I ever knew I could be, but, I am softer too. And, after a year of solid and sometimes debilitating depression, I have never been more sure that, for now at least, I have come out on the other side of a pain I could never really name or define. I’ve stepped out into something I didn’t plan, facilitate, or imagine.

Instead of hating myself for moving, again, I feel strangely stable. I am about to belong to another, new place. And, as I scratched out the dollar sign on my deposit check , one that still displays an old Oregon address, I felt a strong and sturdy root spring out from the sole of my shoe and crawl deep into the Earth beneath me.

***          ***          ***

Home isn’t a place. It isn’t a city. It isn’t a coordinate you can locate on Google maps. Home, simply, is where we stow our love. Home is the three hour drive south to my parent’s door. Home is my cousin’s dogs yipping and jumping up in windows of the front door as I open it, my hands clinging to bags of groceries. Home is the sun falling on my back, my shoulders damp with possibility. Home is a late-night drive home in a snow storm, feeling more alive than I ever have before. Home is belonging to a place, where old memories fade into the past and new ones hang in the air, like the sparkling, cheap-o, Wal-Mart Christmas ornaments that I placed on the Charlie Brown tree that sat on my cousin’s kitchen counter until the day before New Year’s Eve.

“Things fall apart before they come together,” Old Andy told me once, outside an AA meeting in Portland, a Pall Mall hanging from his old-man lips. He’d been sober longer than I’d been alive, and I trusted that he knew everything. So, I believed him. But, even back then, I couldn’t imagine how my life “coming together” would look. And now, I know that’s because we are always falling apart so that we can come together. — In every moment of every day, we break so that we can reassemble. — The light and the darkness will always dance a little too close together so that we can be sure to see that both are always there, reflecting our home right back into our hearts.

Whether in shadow or in the light, our hearts, if we are lucky, will beat. Drawing us back and moving us ever forward. Always bringing us to the same place.

And so, I sign my name, Sarah of Troy, at the bottom of my lease and wait to receive the keys that will open the locks to a beautiful, new door.

 

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An Accumulation Of Snow

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On my Sunday drive to Troy, cars moved slowly, cautious in the hazardous conditions.

Little, black bumpers, fishtailed in and out of their slushy lanes and I wondered if it was wise to be making the trip at all. At the side of the highway, trees stood black against a white-out sky, with soft snow collecting on their branches. — But, it will always be my opinion that it is best to make the trip toward something you want, even if it is treacherous.

I parked at a curb where the snow plows had pushed small mountains up onto the sidewalk. The few people that were out, walked down the middle of the street. I forced my car door open. The huge drifts made it difficult for me to climb out, and when I I found what I thought was some sure footing, I stepped out and stepped gingerly onto a dense snow pile, where my foot fell through, breaking through the snow’s hard crust, crunching all the way down, hitting the sidewalk beneath. Snow fell in my boots, wet and cold. — And It is in these moments of unexpected discomfort and surprise I feel most alive. — Of course, I did not bring a change of socks.

Early for my tea date, I turned my face skyward. White and open. The street before me was near empty, but for a few street walkers and a few business owners who worked hastily, shoveling and salting outside the front of their doors before closing up for the night. Just beyond, at the end of the street, the Hudson flowed, moving under Troy’s little bridges, flat drifts of ice and snow moving along with it.

Over tea, I found myself talking about my sobriety story for the first time in a long time. It felt strange. Foreign. Like a memory that I had to search for at the bottom of an old laundry hamper. Things have become hazy, like the white squall outside. And, I see that what was once my only story, has become a mere precursor to everything else in my life. When I turned to look out the restaurant window, watching the still, white, little city move in its Winter beauty, it felt like the world was just waiting for me to make my next move.

For the last few years, I’ve credited sobriety with bringing every good thing into my life. But, that isn’t the truth.

Across the table from my friend, I began to launch into my old story, the one that, for the longest time, I let define me. But, mid-sentence, I stopped myself.  In a moment of awakening, with dripping boots and wet socks, I realized — Sobriety doesn’t define me anymore. Sobriety has allowed me to be present and available for everything else that has defined me.

Today, as I publish this post, it is 4 years, 53 months, 231 weeks, and 1620 days sober. It is not my sober anniversary. It is not a day marked with any particular significance. It is just another day. And, that is sobriety’s greatest gift — the gift that has made the ordinary become effortlessly beautiful. An accumulation of snow that started off as only a few peaceful flakes falling from the sky, has now left drifts on the sidewalks — dense purpose , piled so tall that falls into my boots. A storm that’s tested my tree’s branches, but still manages to make everything look as if the world were made up entirely of magic.

Today is just another day where I am afforded the luxury to just be — so long as I show up. A huge drift that, eventually, will melt with the Spring, but whose water will nourish the frozen ground as it thaws, feeding another day, a flower that will push up from the soil and peel open its petals in the sun.

As I draw closer and closer to the end of my Year of Happiness, I see that, it can never be just this year. Days will stack up upon days, and, I will still be sober for them all. I am still here. My father’s Christmas wish for me — that my Year of Happiness will go on forever — will come true. So long as continue to drive through the storm, determined to get to the places I want to go.

Sunday, talking about sobriety was difficult, because I have graduated from that story. At the beginning, when I had just 1 day of sobriety to my name, it was all I had to cling to. It was the only thing I had left that didn’t break my heart. It was a true success, the kind that I hadn’t had before. But now, with so much behind me, I don’t want sobriety to be the accolade that I hang my hat on. In some ways, it has rendered itself completely meaningless. And, that feels a bit scary. — Valuing myself for all the things I am — not the things I have given up.

But the sky sent down its storm and a new lesson with it. Snow does not define or explain itself. It just falls. It cares not about the mayhem of the roads, the dirty sidewalk drifts, or the sore shoulders it will leave with its shovelers. It knows nothing of its own beauty as it lines the railings of quiet stoops and country rooftops. It is just there, creating the scene. Existing just to exist, before it melts away.

This week, I feel a sort of sadness in thinking about my sobriety. Not because I am not proud of what I’ve done but, because, it is a story that I held too dear. A story that I know — I have to let go.

Tomorrow, it will be 1621 days sober. Then, 1622. Then 1623. And, I will still be here. Breathing. Feeling. Existing. And, snow will continue fall, and I’ll find places to drink warm tea with warm people.

And, wherever I sit, I will continue to be reminded that anything is possible, that everything can change — and, when I forget, I’ll be gently reminded by the cold, wet snow that’s still melting in my boots.

Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

Thor, For A Day

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I’m flexible.

People LOVE hearing this. — When you’re making a hair appointment. Scheduling a business meeting. Booking a trip. Meeting up for drinks. Planning a date. Nailing down an interview. Mastering a yoga pose. — Everyone just loves to know that they’re working with a little (or a LOT) of wiggle room.

Man, what is it about all that wiggle room?

I was having a moment last week. One of those “Happiness Doesn’t Exist and Love Is Dead” moments. Yes, I’ve had quite a few of those this year. It was Wednesday night, and after driving away, as fast as humanly possible, from a “flexible” second date with the World’s Most Boring Man, I found myself walking down the shoe isle at a strip-mall Marshall’s around 9:00PM, for emergency-nocturnal-retail-therapy. My hair was a mess and my eye make-up was all smeary from tearing up in the car while listening to The National and feeling sorry for myself. And, as I stared at myself in the Marshall’s full length mirror, wearing a pair of brown, clearance ankle-boots with three inch heels, I felt the Earth beneath the white, linoleum floor of the strip mall, shift. I’m not sure if it was my anger or my peace that sent the high-wattage volts of badass-ery flowing up through my curvy thighs, but, I decided then and there: I’m done making concessions for myself this year.

With just two months left in my Year of Happiness, I often find myself wondering how “Happy” I’ll really be when it’s all over. When I turn thirty-three, will I have learned enough? Changed enough? Seen enough? — And, the truth is, I don’t know. Probably not. But, I do know this — for a lifetime, I’ve let flexibility be an excuse more often than I’ve let it open me up to possibility. Time and again,  I’ve said, “Hey, I’ll hang on to this crappy, little relationship/job/hometown/apartment, because, it’s OK, for now. I’m flexible. I can always make changes later.” But, here’s the thing. — I don’t make changes later. — I think about making changes later and never do.

So, looking in the mirror, legs parted in a Thor-like stance, wearing my new clearance boots, with tags still dangling from the zippers, I decided that Happiness isn’t about getting what you want — it’s about asking for it — and not being flexible. I strutted over to the triangular, mirrored bench, unzipping my boots at the anklets, realizing, it’s high time I threw down my own hammer.

After a slew of awful dates, and some not-so-awful dates with guys who couldn’t give a shit about me or my happiness, would you believe that I’ve only met one person in Albany that I’ve had any genuine interest in? And he wasn’t on an app. I met him like real humans meet. At a Friendsgiving dinner way back in November. We didn’t even talk to each other. You know, the way most, awkward, normal, non-bots act when they meet each other. And, later, I asked my roommates about him when we got home. — I heard later that he’d inquired about me as well.

After some mixed, non-communication between our mutual friends, it fizzled. I decided to leave it up in the air, because — Fuck it. — I’m flexible.

But, last Wednesday, in Marshall’s shoe isle, months, and many bad dates later, me and my Thor boots were having none-of-it. When had I become such a chicken shit?

So, under Marshall’s florescent lights, in my socks, I looked up Friendsgiving guy’s Facebook profile and friended him. And, in a not-so-twisty twist of fate, he accepted my request. And, I sent him a message asked him out to coffee. — Under totally dubious, and transparent pretenses, of course. — But, it felt really good. And, in a matter of minutes, after months of being disappointingly “flexible about everything,” all it took was three minutes of being brave to feel somewhat hopeful. And, now, it’s ceased to matter how it all turns out. For now, it only matters that I asked. — Everything else, is just icing on the cake.

And that’s the the thing about Happiness. The greatest lesson from this year, the one I hope I’ll always remember is: Happiness is about what you actually give yourself when you stop being so flexible. Sure, give an inch, but — fight for the mile.

It doesn’t matter if, in the end, everything goes to shit. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. It only matters that you show up — and go for it. — Stop making concessions in the name of flexibility. If there’s anything that you should be inflexible about it’s your own Happiness.

So, I walked out of Marshall’s at 9:30PM with a pair of cheap boots and a new lease on my own Happiness. By 10:30PM, I had made a coffee date with someone I’m fairly confident isn’t insane (or boring). Some things are better when you’re flexible, like, diving for the best-you-can-get-boots at the bottom of a clearance bin. But, some things are worth more. — More time. More effort. And, yes, more risk. Which, sometimes, will involve forcing yourself to move around in a room with a little less flexibility than you’re used to.

You never start out batting 400. Trust me, I know better than anyone, you won’t hit every ball that gets tossed your way. Not even close.

But, your best bet is to swing. Take a strong, inflexible stance. And, bring your hammer down.