A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

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Going Postal: Christmas Edition

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Before pulling into the parking lot of Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Center on Powell Boulevard, I stopped at the liquor store and got a big bottle of Jim Beam White Label.

It was a Tuesday. I was going to put up my Christmas tree. And, Goddammit, I was going to be drunk.

I threw the bottle, in it’s slim, brown, paper bag onto the passenger seat and drove down the road blasting a Nat King Cole Christmas album with the windows down. It was cold and my windshield was dirty. The Winter sun glinted in my eyes and I pulled down the sun visor as I turned off the road and into Dennis’ lot where three Mexican men were tying a tree to the top of a forest green Subaru.

Inside, twinkling lights were strung up under a white, plastic canopy that housed flocked, white Christmas trees, lined up by size, in tidy rows, as far as the eye could see. Red, glass ornaments reflected the glare of silver tinsel. Life-size Santas stood guard in every doorway. And, the woman who stood at the cashier’s counter wore a green sweater laced with cheap, golden threads and had glittery silver snowflakes dangling from her ear lobes. “Can you tell me where the Fraser firs are?” She looked up at me smiling her big, toothy, smoker’s smile, “How tall, hun?” She croaked. Unsure how to answer, I considered inquiring what height she thought might fill the loveless void my living room had become.

“I don’t know. Six feet?” I asked her, not really concerned with height, only with getting something to convince myself that the holiday season of 2011 was not, in fact, the fifth ring of hell. “Carlos!” she shouted across the store, “Can you take this little lady over to the Frasers? — Go over there with Carlos hun. He’ll help you.”

Carlos stood behind me while I pushed my way through branches and needles in an aisle at the far end of the lot. “You like that one? I can open it for you, so you can see it,” he said stepping forward. “That’s ok. I’ll take it. It’s fine.” He looked at me as if he understood why I was there — a look that acknowledged both my indifference and his pity for me. “Ok. No problem. Which car is yours?” He picked up the tree before I could answer. “Black Honda Civic. The one with the busted tail light.” He nodded, leading me down the aisle and back under the heated canopy. “Ok. You pay inside.” I handed him my car keys and walked back to the cashier with the white ticket Carlos had ripped from the top of the tree and handed to me.

I paid Sissy Snowflake sixty-five bucks for the tree and another twenty for my impulse buy: A big, red, light-globe that sat on the edge of her counter. “Happy Holidays, Hun,” she said handing me my change.

Carlos saw the bottle of Jim Beam poking out from the brown bag on the passenger seat. “You throwing a Christmas party?” He asked, smiling, as he tied the twine taunt around the roof of my car. “Yeah,” I said, “something like that,” handing him a ten dollar tip.

Back home, I pulled into our driveway which, now, was just my driveway. I looked at the tree strapped to the roof like a dead body and did everything I could to stop myself from breaking all the car’s windows. I held my bottle of bourbon, like the baby Jesus himself, and left the tree atop the Honda. — First things first.

In the kitchen, I didn’t even bother to pull down a glass. I opened the bottle, letting the click of the breaking, plastic seal sound the coming of my lord and savior: Jim Beam. I drank from the bottle in gulps. It burned the back of my throat and sent a shiver up my back that started in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, and, the warm liquid sloshed in my empty stomach like an angry sea. I felt my cheeks flush red and, after a minute, I could breathe again.

I put on Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Songs By Sinatra” and sat on the arm of the couch with my open bottle and my green, Rubbermaid Christmas bin at my feet. Inside the bin were smaller boxes of ornaments my mother had packed up for us before we moved, a tree skirt, old lights, stockings, and a Glade cinnamon-apple scented candle that we hadn’t finished burning the year before. I dug out the plush snowman with a hook at his feet and placed him on the fireplace mantle and hung my cat’s Christmas stocking. She sat watching me from her window perch in the sun, nonplussed.

When I was drunk enough, I decided to get the tree. Carlos had already put it in the stand, so, I just had to cut the twine and get the thing from the driveway, through the garage, and into the living room. It seemed easy enough, but when I got out to the car, the tree seemed bigger than when I had poked at it’s branches on the lot. I stood there for moment with my scissors, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver the sappy beast into the house. And, as I walked around the side of the car, snipping at the twine on the back, passenger side, the mailman turned the corner.

I’d seen him many times before. He’d always waved to me as he wheeled by during the Summer, while I sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. He was a fit, older guy with salt and pepper hair in a tight, military cut. Tall and lean, he walked quickly, and that day the dusty blue of his Postal Service uniform contrasted his red cheeks in the cold. He watched me fumble as he counted out my neighbor’s holiday cards and placed them in her slot. I struggled, sliding the tree off the driver’s side, almost falling. The plastic stand hit the asphalt, hard. It didn’t break, but, it startled me. “Godfuckingdamnit,” I spat out in frustration under my bourbon breath.

“Need a hand there?” The mailman asked in a warm, kind voice, as I dragged the stand over the gravel toward the garage. “No. That’s ok.” I said, tripping over the cement lip where the garage met the driveway. “Jesus. Fuck.”

“Here.” He said, walking toward me. “Let me help you there. You really need two people to do that job.”

“I’ve got it! Jesus.” I shouted. The sound of my voice reverberated off the walls of the garage and out onto Cora Drive, hitting the street like a piece of metal. “I’ve fucking got it.”

“Alright lady. Fine.” He said, putting his hands up, conceding. “Just trying to help you. Jeez.” He walked back to his cart at my neighbor’s front door and wheeled it up to his little truck around the other side of the circle. And, I stood at the garage door, wondering who I’d become.

***          ***          ***

Later that night, after the sun had gone, the apartment was dark, save for the lights on the tree. After the mailman left, I’d struggled for another ten minutes, but managed to get the tree up the single step and into the living room where it sat, undecorated, while I wept between swigs of bourbon.

As my Sinatra album repeated for the fifth time, I strung up the lights. I hung my favorite childhood ornaments. And, as tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled out the little angel my mother had wrapped for me, specially, in paper towels, and placed her at the top. — She looked down on me softly as I sunk to the floor where I grabbed at the blue carpet beside my now near-empty bottle. Even in that, the saddest and most desperate of moments, my tree was absolutely beautiful. — A light in my darkest season.

Completely blotto, I held myself up at the kitchen counter and pulled out a notepad and a pen from the junk drawer and wrote a note to the mailman. I stumbled to the front door and clipped it to my mailbox outside.

THANKS FOR TRYING TO HELP ME WITH THE TREE. I’M SORRY. IT REALLY WAS A TWO PERSON JOB. BUT, IT’S BEEN A CRAP YEAR, AND I REALLY NEEDED TO DO IT MYSELF.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

SARAH

With Our Bones

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My coworker tells a red-faced customer that the New Year starts with our bones.

He is referencing the seasonable cold front that, only just now, has arrived in New York City. But, as I stare from the coffee shop window out onto the still-dark avenue, I think it’s possible his theory has nothing at all to do with the weather.

He’s right though, the New Year does start with our bones. And, after letting some heavy weight drop, I am left again — feeling empty. Just a feeble frame.

This feeling is a familiar one.

September 9, 2012. I stood in the center of my Portland living room. I remember staring with empty eyes at my black, cubed, IKEA bookshelf. I read the title off the spine of every book I owned.

It was my first day sober, and, I didn’t know what else to do. I could not sit or walk or make calls or cook or watch TV. Most importantly — I could not drink. I could only do this one thing — stare at my shelf full of books. And then, I sat on the stoop outside my tiny kitchen, my elbows pressed into my knees, and I smoked an entire pack of Parliaments. A lonely skeleton.

Days and weeks past. Then, months. Now, years. And, where substance is concerned — I am human again. I can see myself in the mirror without having a drink. I have created something. That old skeleton — a spine, made up once from those of my books and my rib cage, made up once from twenty premium cigarettes — is now covered with flesh. I made matter with which to cloak myself. And, with practice, I learned how to uncover meaning in my own assembly.

Meaning will come and go. But, one thing is sure — Time will always create new bodies for us to build. And I have come to believe, despite the hardship, it is important we continue the difficult work. Unending. Tedious. Painful. Slow. Rewarding. Beautiful. Unexpected. — Grace.

We sew our veins, organs, and muscles into place. We cover ourselves in this — our skin. Unique. Never again to be duplicated. We all start out with these bones. And, at the end, which is never really the end, we are something we weren’t before. Original in our effort. We are our own life’s work. — We become our willingness to begin.

In the New Year, cold descends. We feel it. The work commences.

It starts with our bones.

 

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”

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

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.  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]

The Same Old Song

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The New Year looms.

I washed back 2014 and I toasted 2015 with a glass of Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. It tasted good.

I sometimes wonder if I’m experiencing some strange form of reverse insanity where, somehow, I no longer find myself missing booze. And, as my life starts to settle into some semblance of stability and comfort, I find myself searching for it — not the bottle — a feeling. The thing that’s at the core of what I believe my alcoholism to be — some unnamed emotion that won’t let sleeping dogs lie. I’ve had this feeling before. I know this feeling. And — drinking is the cure. A cure that, in the past, facilitated an allowance of brief moments where I happily let myself be taken off guard. A cure that became a kind of permission I granted myself. And, without it, something feels untapped in me.

I still lace my boots too tight. I still have trouble giving myself away. But, I want to feel it — happiness. I know it’s there. But, it shies away from me like a nervous child, disappearing behind her mother’s knees. And, I don’t blame her. She’s had the rug ripped out from underneath her before. And now, my movements play out like an old song — one where my happiness sings out the melody and my caution keeps the beat.

It’s not that I want to go back. I don’t want to go back. Sobriety has offered a liberation that I could never take for granted. And, the freedom I enjoy today, far exceeds the freedom of Jim Beam White Label. But old weight is still weight. It holds me an inch too close to Earth. I find myself wondering how to recreate the trust and untethered hope that years past have stolen. I want to feel without losing too much. I want to let go. I want to learn how to keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.

The more present I become, the more I see how this strange and ambiguous feeling can rule me. Alcohol was the great equalizer, equipped with it’s own system of checks and balances. And, without it, I still struggle to even the scales. Inaction has held me back for as long as I can remember. And now, sober, I am making up for lost time.

I’ve tasted happiness and I know that it’s a cure more potent than any other. I remind myself that it’s attainable. But, more than that, it’s something we are all worthy of — our birthright. So, when I feel it in my stomach — that need to disappear behind my mother’s knees, I decide to step forward instead.

It’s a New Year, and, my song may sound the same, but I am choosing to hear it differently. I focus on my melody while the cautious drummer keeps time. Because, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that when I adjust my perception my reality adjusts too. So, with some hesitation, I make the decision to let go. And when I do, I find myself where I’d always hoped I’d be.

Head in the clouds. Feet on the  ground.

 

 

 

 

 

A Year Of Beautiful Mistakes

Photo Dec 30, 8 50 30 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow — it will be the New Year. And, traditionally, that has meant absolutely nothing.

As an adult, I’ve never devoted too much time to pondering what the New Year will hold in store. I’ve always returned to my track record: Which is to say — It’s going to be bad.

In years past, it meant fancy dinners, donning little black dresses and the clink-clink-clanking of champagne glasses — almost always followed by blacking out in cabs, or at bars, or on my couch — my black, open-toed heels still strapped to my blistered feet.

To my own credit, I sometimes have made attempts to kick off the New Year with a few, tiny shreds of hope and optimism, only to be thwarted later, and reminded that, no — No-Siree-Bob — this year isn’t going to be my year either.

I’ve never been one to make resolutions or to scribe an epic list of the things I hope to change and improve. That’s never been my style. And, I have always surrounded myself with people who were equally disillusioned. I mean, why bother? A kiss at midnight and a fifth of whiskey always seemed like more than enough. Until — it became too much. And, even in letting the bottle go, I have still managed to get lost in my unrealistic expectations.

In 12-Step meetings they’ll tell you that expectations are future disappointments. And, in some cases, that’s very true. I’ve spent most of my life waiting for something or someone that will never show up. I’ve tried to resurrect things that were cold and dead in the hopes that I could make them breathe again. I’ve wanted to fix everything, picking up the jagged pieces of my life like a broken wine glass from the floor, my fingers bleeding, never thinking to cut my losses and start over. Even in sobriety, I’ve made the same mistakes, over and over, expecting some different outcome. — The very definition of insanity.

But, as much as I’ve lost to my own expectations, in my sober adventures, I’ve also found that there is much to be gained by being present, and expecting good things in the moments for which I am truly there. Sober, I’ve made myself open to possibility — more than ever before. I’ve found gratitude for small things. I’ve learned that, sometimes, the same mistake can take you somewhere new — somewhere magical. But it won’t always happen on the first try. Or the second. Or even the third.

Now — more than ever — I have to be careful without cowardice. I cannot roll in and out with every tide, nor can I plant my feet in the sand. I have to remind myself that I’ve spent too much of my life writing off my own expectations. And as a result, I’ve tolerated the shittiest of situations for far too long and I’ve let myself off the hook when I should have remained accountable. But, this year, something is different.

For the first time in years, it’s looming. — Big change. — Like watching a storm cloud break over the ocean and seeing the sun spill out over the dark waves. Good things — they’re coming. And, for some strange reason, in this new year, 2015, all my dreams seem plausible.

My wish for us — whatever this New Year may bring — is that we be present for all our days. That we live in the moments that raise us up and in those that leave us wanting. Because, like Baba Ram Dass has told us from the very start, to Be Here, Now, is to truly live.

And so, it is with some relief and a twinge of sadness that I bid farewell to 2014. My year of beautiful mistakes. Not the least of which has brought me to this moment — one where I stand most presently.

On this New Year’s Eve, I hope that you find yourself as I do — In love.

For, where there is love — all things are possible.

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

The Re-gifted Reindeer

Photo Dec 24, 2 05 42 AM

Get out the wrapping paper. It’s re-gifting time.

Yes, I’m home for Christmas. I’m 30. And — in some cultures — I’m what passes for an adult. Yet, here I am, on the couch in my parent’s living room, sitting cross-legged in my pajamas — wearing sparkly reindeer antlers.

For a just a moment — I judge myself harshly. I mean, how is it, really, that after all this time and after all the crap I’ve been through — grown-up heartbreak, real-life lessons, crap-ass jobs, meaningful-to-meager relationships — that I’ve returned home only to be reduced to some primitive version of myself?

Truthfully, I’m not sure. Which is why, this year, I’m trying to cut my bad self a little slack. I’m starting to realize that my self-assessments were never really quite accurate. Each sober day that passes, I make new peace with whoever this woman is that I’m becoming. I’m no teenager — despite the very-real-feeling that I will remain seventeen for all perpetuity. And, while it’s true that, most days, I wish I were something different — something more — I’m starting to feel more comfortable declaring my own instability.

The holiday season is a time for compassion. We’re supposed to go deep and give big. And this year, the only way I can give more of myself is to dust off those old, buried pieces of my soul — the ones that I deemed unfit for consumption. Perhaps I was too hasty in writing myself off. I think it’s time that I dug out my old gifts and gave my new, sober hardware a run for its money.

It’s time to start re-gifting. — Re-gifting myself.

So many of us hand out the same gifts, year after year. We give away the safe pieces of our heart — the pieces with smooth edges — the parts of us that we think are worthy. I’m realizing that it’s time to start putting more on the table. It’s time to bust out the sharp-edged-second-tier-heart-bits.

Sobriety has taught me how to give more of myself. And, sometimes, it’s uncomfortable. Showing up to the holiday party with extra baggage is scary. We give ourselves the illusion of being in control when we allow everything in our lives to remain the same. — And, let’s face it, there is something comforting about the neighbor showing up with the same-fucking-fruitcake every year — even if it’s become your annual tradition to drop it into the trash can like a brick.

I sit on the couch, my festive, sequined antlers twinkling in the Christmas tree lights, and I’m reminded that I need to re-purpose these negative feelings. Especially the ancient ones that were written into my DNA long ago. How we see ourselves is just the story we write in our own heads. It’s time to write something better. My family will always expect one version of Sarah — but the truth is, they’ll have to accept whatever Santa decides to throw under the tree. And, by actually facing my own shortcomings, I become less apologetic for the things I’m not.

This year, I encourage you to re-gift all the things that don’t serve you. Write something new. Find the unused parts of your heart. Predictable appearances are overrated.

Give more.

Red noses get noticed. Let your freak flag fly.