The Rotten Fruit

2ripeand1rootenapple I was taking big breaths. In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

That’s what you’re supposed to do when you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I don’t usually leave the house before having my coffee, but, on Sunday, I did.

I slipped into my sneakers, pulled my green sweatshirt over my head, and I walked out of the house into the cold. I stood in the center of  the overpass at the highway crossing and let the sound and smell engulf me. Moving air and gasoline. People, all flying forward at sixty-five miles an hour, and me, standing perfectly still. I allowed all the noise to surround me, humming as it rose up from underneath me. And, in that beautiful mess of movement and sound, I let my fingers feel cold and my ears feel numb. I melted. Into place. Into Albany. Into the fence that stops people who are about to lose it from leaping into the traffic below. And, every thought I had, just one more car on the thruway — I allowed a final chance to make its noise.

Thoughts. This past month, I wrote them. Spoke them. But mostly, I thought them. I’ve carried some of them around with me for what feels like centuries, luggage I’d never opened. Because I knew that, if I did,  I’d have to shove every unruly thought back into that damn suitcase. And, they’d never all fit back inside the way they had before. All my thoughts, old and overripe. — All rotting fruit.

I wrote the stories that had been permanent residents in my head, for years. And suddenly, they were all outside me. My bag of fruit, strewn across the highway. And, out of nowhere, came waves of forgiveness. Everywhere I looked, I had been forgiven. Crazier still, I was able to forgive. Finally. I forgave. — The people. The places. The circumstances. — All of us, redeemed. Drenched in blessed water, burst from my leaking pipes in some holy absolution.

When I woke up with a start Sunday morning, I felt them. — New thoughts. New weight. So, I walked out onto New Scotland Road and I stood on that overpass and dumped everything I had, the old and the new, my suitcase of rotting apples, onto the highway below.

Vibrating along with a thousand engines, I let the person I’ve pretended to be fall into the traffic below, with the rest of my trash. And then, I started walking.

I learned to walk in Portland, after my first, traumatic event in sobriety. Miles and miles. Every morning, before I went to work. Every night, when I got home. I walked, dragging my fruit-filled baggage around Reed College campus so many times, I swear to God, there are still grooves in the sidewalk from my worn out Brooks running sneakers. I walked because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to be done. My therapist at the time told me to stop walking. Both my Achilles had severe tendonitis. She was worried about me. But, I kept on walking. — Because, I knew, medical advice be damned, that I had marathons to trot before I’d feel any better.

And, that’s just it. As the old adage goes: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Sometimes, you have to carry the rotten fruit. Walk with it. Walk to China and back. It’s only after you’ve dragged your bag behind you long enough that you truly know which stories will truly eat you alive. And then, you have to tell them. In your head first, and then, to everyone. You have to let go of the projects you were never meant to have. You have to be the crazy girl who changes her mind about everything ten thousand times before settling on the right thing, which will, inevitably, end up being wrong. You have to forgive. Don’t forget, because, the whole point is learning. But, forgive. Please. Forgive everyone. And then, forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being: Stupid. Selfish. In over your head. A punk. A liar. A child. A cheat. A recluse. A thief. And a fraud. — You have to remember that everyone on this planet is just as fucked as you are, and, you have to learn to like that about humanity.

You have to stand over the fucking highway and drop all of your rotten fruit over the edge, because none of it is going to save or serve you. Not one thought or person or memory is going to save you. It’s you who’s going to save you. Your story — however you tell it — is the thing that sets you free. It can be sad or funny or desperate. It can be humiliating or humbling or hammy. But, the thing it can’t be is: Silent. So, scream it. Your stories aren’t meant to be thoughts that bounce around like a pinballs between your ears. It has to be messy. Rotten fruit on the highway.

Sunday, I didn’t end up losing it. I started walking. New Scotland Road to Whitehall to Delaware Avenue. Mascara running. And then, I walked some more, to a coffee shop in Center Square, Albany.

I stood in line with my raccoon eyes, and got an Americano brewed from beans that, as it happened, were from a boutique, Oregon coffee roaster that I used to frequent when I lived in Portland. The barista thought I was cool because I’d heard of them. I fought the urge to tell him how decidedly uncool I am. But, I didn’t. Because, some thoughts — are trash. And trash doesn’t make good banter, but, it does make a good story.

This month, the ninth in my Year of Happiness, and the last in the year of 2016, is about the Stories. All the stories. My stories. Pent-up stories. Maudlin, sad stories. Trash stories. Every story that’s fit to print, and even better, those that are completely unfit. Because, when this year is over, I’m starting over again. And, likely, again after that. I need room. Room for new stories. All the room I can find.

So, if your going to lose it, start with the old thoughts, the old stories — all of them.

Start fresh. Empty your bags onto the highway.

And, when you’re left with the stories you can’t lift high enough to toss over the edge — tell them.

Start with the fruit.

Artwork: “Two Ripe and One Rotten Apple,”  Daniel Worth;

http://danielworthart.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-ripe-and-one-rotten-apple.html

 

 

 

 

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The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

Our Collective Story

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For the first time in the 2+ years I have been publishing Saucy Sobriety, I am delaying the publication of my scheduled post.

Today, I feel that I cannot share my own story, because our collective story has made me feel too ill.I cannot contribute anything new to the discourse that is going on in this nation this morning.

Everything I would want to say has already been said and, frankly, it’s likely been said in more eloquent words than I would ever use to describe such an upset.

I will say this, for this month’s theme here at Saucy Sobriety, in my Year of Happiness, I’ve chosen to focus on Owning Up. And, today, we must Own Up collectively, as a nation, for the monster we have created. — The intolerance we have fostered. The misogyny that we have overlooked and ignored. The racism that we have allowed and encouraged. The ignorance that we have perpetuated. And the hatred toward those we do not understand that we have let fester and grow.

We are ALL responsible.

Politics, and their consumption, have reached a fever pitch. And in our tireless yammering on about what this country is or isn’t and what it deserves or doesn’t and who it deserves to lead it or burn it down — we have truly lost parts of our humanity that I fear we’ll never rediscover.

This is a sad day in American history. And, because of this day’s levity, my story can wait. It is our story that needs immediate revision. But, the truth remains that WE have chosen. And now, WE must Own Up to that choice. — We must live with it.

And, so often, it is those real,  experiential lessons that teach us the most. Though, at this time, that fact comes as little consolation.

Our humanity and compassion as a nation, as a people, may never be the same again. But, I remain steadfast in my hope that we can grow and change.

And, it’s my own personal hope that that change begins, for some of us, today, in the wake of what I can only describe as a national abomination.

 

All The Truth You Sleep With

Photo Jul 18, 10 17 22 PM

Kate* sold her body for heroin.

Kate was also one of the unlikely teachers that I’ve found in my sobriety, showing me that truth will take root in the most barren places.

When I first got sober, I enrolled myself in a rehab program, and Kate was one of the many, weathered women in my recovery group. She looked unkempt. Distracted. And, I thought her to be something of a loose cannon. But, she had almost one year of sobriety — to my less than thirty days. I wanted to know how. There was something mysterious and unusual about her, and, I watched her carefully. She was short, overweight, and had tight blonde curls that swung back and forth, wildly, when she turned her head from side to side. She was covered in tattoos, most of which, she had gotten recently. She told me that she was in the process of covering up all of her scars. — Something that everyone in the group was trying to do, in some fashion or another.

Kate lived in a halfway house for women. She was on probation for prostitution, solicitation, and drug possession. She’d already served hard time. And, the court had just awarded her custody of her daughter, under the supervised care of her halfway house, after a long period of separation. — I had never met someone who, outwardly, was so much my opposite. She was twenty-three, but, she looked like she was forty. She had tired eyes and when she pulled her legs up under her, onto the couch in the meeting room, she exuded a knowing protectiveness. She didn’t want others to notice her. She looked both ways before doing anything, and, no matter who was present, her motions were preceded with extreme caution.

One morning, Kate showed up to group early. I was the only one in the meeting room. She met my eyes with suspicion, but, then, a smile swept away the clouds of her constantly gloomy face and she walked toward me. “Look,” she said, pointing to a large bandage taped over the length of her forearm.

“Oh my God!” I looked up at her with concern. “What happened?” She laughed and sat down beside me on the couch. She peeled back the bandage and revealed her newest tattoo: “You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets” was gracefully penned, in ornate, red, scripted letters across the inside of her arm. — “Don’t you fucking love it ?!” She squealed.

Her new tattoo was a popular saying, one that you hear often in 12-Step or rehab. Kate was not the first junkie to make this her slogan, and, she won’t be the last. But, there was something about her reveling in her truth on that morning, that made me think about my own.

Kate had little formal education. Her parents were drug addicts and dealers. And, her life, from the very start, had been nothing but struggle. When I listened to her speak, I felt like a fool for sitting in the same room. — My battle was nothing compared to hers. — I was an affluent kid. Loved and cared for by my family. I wanted for nothing. Yet, here I was. In rehab. It made no sense. How had this happened? What had gone wrong? What had Kate done wrong? Surely, no one deserved the life she’d had. It pained me to even imagine.

I spent days and hours in my rehab group trying to make sense of her. I looked for clues. Observing how she spoke and how she moved. I listened to her story, which unfolded in every session, breaking my heart. — In comparison, my addiction, my dependency, my helplessness seemed like a pittance. No matter how I searched, I could never find the link that connected us. Until that morning, when Kate  showed me, and the rest of the group, her new tattoo.

“Who feels like sharing first?” Our counselor asked, her eyes scanning the room. Kate looked from side to side, and carefully raised her bandaged arm into the air. “Thank you for volunteering. Go ahead, Kate.”

Kate shifted in her seat on the couch, carefully cradling her arm. “You guys, I got this today.” She said, as she peeled back her bandage, yet again, and waved her new, red-inked arm from side to side, making sure the entire room could see it. “It feels really fucking good. Because, I was so sick, you guys.” She paused, gulping something back, hard. “All those secrets I had. Oh my God, I was so fucking sick. I never told nobody nothing about all the shit I did. Nobody knew all the shit that went down. Nobody. Not even my daughter’s father. But, I knew. And, I ate those secrets you guys. I ate it. So, here’s my truth, straight up: I fucked Johns for dope. But, I was really fucking them to escape dope. To escape all of it. That dope was my ticket out, guys. I thought it melted all my secrets. But, it just melded them. It just melded them into one big secret. You can’t get away from that shit, you guys.”

She paused again, looking down at her new tattoo. And then, two, big tears dropped, one from the corner of each of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly as we all  sat watching her, spellbound. — We had never seen her cry.

“You want to know how I got almost a year clean and sober? Tell all your fucking secrets, you guys. Tell them. Because, they make you sick. And, at night, it’s not just the Johns and it’s not just the secrets you sleep with — it’s all the truth. It’s all the truth you sleep with. —That’s the shit that clogs your fucking soul, guys. That’s the shit that will kill you.”

Then, she stopped talking. She looked at me across the circle in a way she had never looked at me before. As if, despite our obvious differences, we were the same. Just women. Just hurt. Just looking for the truth. The same truth. Dropping our dead weight there in the middle of the meeting room floor. — We were only as sick as our secrets. — And, now, Kate was free.

It got quiet for a long minute before we just continued on with our session. But, I spent the rest of that day, night, and week thinking about Kate. — Thinking about all the truth I slept with.

I could not fathom Kate’s life. But, I began to realize that, while I was drinking and using drugs — I could no longer fathom my own life, either. I had stopped being honest. I had lied at every turn to keep myself running at the same pace. I’d kept my secrets well — and, still, they’d caught up to me.

Honesty isn’t one thing. It can’t be. And, when you start telling your truth, it won’t sound how you expect it to sound. But, without it, you’ll have nothing. — You’ll end up with a bunch of lies you have to keep straight. And, then — you’ll have to go home and sleep with the truth.

The truth, when you’re living a lie, is a persistent and terrifying ghost.

Kate was right. Spill your guts, and know, whatever ends up on the floor, can free you. Show up for your life and peel back your bandages. Your scars — covered by tattoos or not — are there to remind you of what came before. — A monument for something real.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I think about Kate. And I remember, even when I am scared, and my bed feels sad, and empty — I have all this truth, laying here, beside me.

 

*This name has been changed to protect and honor Kate’s anonymity.

 

You Can Lead A Drunk To Water

Photo May 21, 9 50 33 AM

When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.

But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.

The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.

On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.

On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.

I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?

I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.”  But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”

Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.

Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.

On the day of my revelation, I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.

I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.

And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.

This is the definition of alcoholism.

You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.

The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.

Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.

Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.

Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.

Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.

But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:

“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”

Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

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It’s coming. / It’s here. — These are your options.

Because, if you don’t believe Happiness is here, or that it’s on it’s way — it isn’t.

I keep telling myself that Belief is about something more soulful — more spiritual. But, I’m finding, a lot of the time — it’s not. For me, Belief, is as simple as trusting my own timing. Try as I may try to simplify the challenges in my life — the resolution finds me on it’s own time. Not on mine.

Timing can rule our Happiness. And, I think, innately, we know this. It explains why we constantly curse the uncanny consistency of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We always tell ourselves that there’s something we should have done differently. If we’d been some other way, things would be better — we would be happier.

But, Belief can only mirror our hypothetical lives. In reality, Happiness works around the constructs of timing. Belief builds on our timing and it’s constant imperfection. Where Happiness is concerned, our missteps are just part of the process.

Stop asking yourself if this is the right time or the right person or the right place. These kinds of questions don’t get us any closer to Happiness. It behooves us to ask them. They slow us down. Instill fear. They open the door to perfectionism which, really, is just our fear in disguise.

Sometimes our timing does, in fact, suck. We’re left wide open to failure. And then — it actually happens — we fail. It’s a terrifying lesson that I’ve learned over and over again. And, would you believe that it only took me thirty-two years to figure out that my failure is the number one thing that I’ve got going for me? — Because, from the rubble of my failures, I have created myself. And, today, I’m really liking the person I’ve become.

Timing is our greatest teacher. All those jobs, relationships, and family fall-outs that left you broken and confused — how many times did you throw your hands up and ask, why? Why do I have to go through this? Do this? Be this? Lose this? — And, how many times were you able to answer those questions, years later?

All the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I’ve faced — turned out to be the seeds for a Happiness I am only, just now, starting to watch push up from the dirt. For as long as I can remember, I have hated my timing. Things came too late — left too early. Or so I thought.

Timing is like the sky or the ocean. You can map the storms and the predict tides — but they can’t be controlled. And, if you really want to experience it — your Happiness — you have to understand that it’s something you’ll never really comprehend. Timing isn’t ours to manage. And, releasing yourself from that responsibility is nothing short of life changing.

Let yourself be exhausted by the puzzling and unpredictable adventures of your life — not by trying to conquer the unconquerable. Belief in our timing is akin to freedom. And some days, failure is the name of the fucking game. Quit beating yourself up. — Tomorrow, the sky will still be there. The ocean too.

At some point in my process, I started to realize that all my questions about timing were just ways for me to avoid what made me uncomfortable. — Not the right time? There’s always next time! Not the right person? Bail. Not the right job? Quit. — I never gave anything a chance. Mostly, because I was scared. Blaming your timing is a really great way to miss out on the things, places, and people that have the power to change you and help you grow.

I have been uncomfortable for the majority of my life. Prone to overthinking, over-analyzing, and anxiety. — I’ve waited for things to change or fix themselves. For people to love me. For bosses to appreciate me. For parents to approve of me. For friends to back me up. I didn’t demand anything because I was waiting for time to give it to me.

Happiness is not a waiting game. You need to hustle. Put all your eggs in one basket — let that basket be the timing of your life. Let it be the Belief that all the inconvenience, absence, and disappointment, led you to this moment — a moment where things actually pan out. The bumps and blemishes on your life’s timeline leave you with an appreciation for your Happiness. Timing is about owning your discomfort.

Being uncomfortable will map your obstacles on the way to Happiness. Face them. You’ll see where your failure has meaning. Belief in your timing is just another form of surrender. — And time reminds us of just how much we have to give. We allow ourselves to become cogs in a bigger machine without even noticing it. And, to operate as a part of something instead of apart from it, is timing’s greatest gift to us.

Happiness. — It’s coming. / It’s here. — Get a fucking basket.

The Promise of Color

crocus image

Spring draws us out.

Cynical, tired, hopeless, and angry as I find myself — there’s something that soothes every state of unrest in the way the sun rises this time of year. It’s a different shade of yellow. Creamy and light, never sallow. Spring has a grace the other seasons lack. The promise of color. Time moves us forward and we are given permission to let our dead things feed a new Earth.

The tree in my parent’s back yard litters the ground with little, red buds. The pointed tips of green leaves push their way up through thawing dirt, packed tight by feral cat’s paws. And the local squirrels make plans to execute their annual vendetta against my mother’s stoop-garden bulbs.

This time last year everything was soooooo nice. Nice city. Nice boyfriend. Nice apartment. Nice new job. Nice. Nice. Nice. — Oh, and stagnant. Stagnant and boring. I’d always imagined “Nice” as a place I’d want to stay. I thought I’d enjoy stability. But, forever restless, “Nice” needed moving forward. Growth. I began to feel the momentum of Spring pulling me toward the ring. Though, I hadn’t agreed to fight yet. I first spent a few months trying to make “Nice” work.

In Brooklyn, things move, begrudgingly. Uncomfortable and awkward. But, movement is movement. Time passes. And while I keep pushing up against locked doors, part of me feels assured a key is bound to show up. So, I dig in and wait.

When you abandon “Nice,” life picks up speed. The seasons bleed into one another and little things morph into bigger ones. A seemingly harmless unrest can turn into a move across the country. The arc of change is never what we anticipate. And I think, maybe, I did fuck up. Royally at that. It wouldn’t be the first time I made a huge life decision in haste.

I allow room for the possibility. And I’m finding the more I revel in my missteps, the more I like myself. I become increasingly amused by my uncanny ability to be me. I used to be so scared of making mistakes. I was a fearful kid. A fearful young woman. But, the worst of my wounds have scabbed over, I am no longer scared. I know now, with certainty — it absolutely will get worse. And, I know that even after shit hits the fan, it’s possible to get back to “Nice” and still find yourself unsatisfied. I devoted all that time to the pursuit of perfection, and wouldn’t you know — I ended up becoming the fuck-up girl anyway.

Each mistake gives me a new kind of freedom. And, I’ve started letting myself off the hook for losing track of the woman I thought I was supposed to be. Because now, I’m so far off course, it hardly matters.

“Nice” is a temporary thing. It’s better that way.

Eventually, a yellow sun rises and the dark season yields to new color.

 

 

Millennials: Big Hearts In The Big Void

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There’s nothing like a good corporate questionnaire to highlight all the things you’re not.

I sit at my MacBook Pro, just one double-click away from zombie status, filling in field after field of yet another online job application. This is just one of the many questionnaires that I’ve completed in the past few weeks. A repetitive, mind-numbing process that reminds me I don’t quite fit the mold into which I am constantly attempting to pour myself.

I keep reading all these articles about Millennials. Fucking Millennials. — The problems we face. The problems we create. We’re asked to face the destitute world that the Baby Boomers have so lovingly left for us to burn down, meanwhile — we’re moving back in with them, staring out longingly from the windows of our childhood. Our lazy, privileged existence, devoid of any work ethic or gumption. — The whole conversation makes me angry. Infuriated. Why are we the generation that no one can figure out?

I hate the sweeping designation that’s been bestowed upon our flailing age group. Not all of us are representatives of the Lena-Dunham-GIRLS culture. — At least we’re not trying to be. I find myself wondering, how should I designate myself? How do we set ourselves apart, step up, and place ourselves on solid ground without compromising our values and abandoning our dreams? And, please, don’t tell me we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

In searching for the keys that unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, I’ve answered my own question. We Millennials, are the seeking generation. And, for us, today’s commerce lies in the search. So much is available to us. And yet, we choke. There are too many places to begin. It’s no longer the pool of pensions and 401Ks that our parents waded into years ago — security is a thing of the past. Now — this river is wild. And, if we’re going to survive, it’s about finding our true calling. Our purpose. — Heart-based business, baby.

A Baby Boomer once told me: “No matter how good you have it — work is work. You’re never going to wake up everyday and find yourself satisfied and excited to show up at the office. That’s just life, kid.” Um. That’s some bullshit and I’m not buying it. — An antiquated excuse born of another era.

To the dreams Baby Boomers lost in Vietnam we hold up our own. — The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan — this banner of unending war, which has served as the backdrop of our lives, now more than ever, a sobering reminder. — Our work is worth fighting for.

Privilege, if nothing else, has afforded us Millennials hope. Work is not just work to us. It has to be our heart’s work. Work that feeds us. So, it’s worth waiting for — worth seeking out in this generational void. We, at the cost of returning home, regressing to our 17-year-old-selves, will wait for something that fulfills an unmet need in us — in our world. Oh, and I guess it should pay the bills too? — Therein lies the real gap. The economy is only just now starting to catch up to our wide-open hearts. And, we’re still left wanting.

This questionnaire asks me if I “Strongly Agree” with this? Do I “Strongly Disagree” with that? And, I keep finding myself in this position of being lukewarm. I am trying to remember what it feels like to get riled up about something. To run hot. Where is the heart I so easily find in my writing or in the faces of the smiling regulars I’ve greeted at my plethora of service industry jobs? Why can’t our joy also meet our dividends? I didn’t get sober to lead a thankless life, redeemed only by my employer’s willingness to offer decent health benefits and to match my Roth IRA contributions.

During this process, filling out this heartless questionnaire, my purpose is jolted. Awakened — it remembers. I make the shift from disheartened to inspired. This piece-of-shit questionnaire, now revelatory. A reminder of all these things I’m not, it begs me to put forward all the things I am.

Would you say you are: Stubborn as fuck? Mildly manic? Conscientious? Coyly critical? Empathetic to a fault? Occasionally work-inappropriate? Passionate for people? A wide-open heart? A rabble-rouser? A dinner-table-debater? Tired and poor and yearning to breathe free? Ready to Burn. This. Shit. Down.?

Yeah.

Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. — In fact, put me down for “Strongly Agree.”

 

 

His Heroin(e)

Photo Jul 06, 6 56 57 PM

I lie on his bed while he shoots dope in the bathroom.

He runs the sink so I won’t hear him heat the spoon, but I still hear the flick-flick-flick of the lighter through the old vent in the floor. I can see though the walls. I. Hear. Every. Sound. The brown paste boils thin, to a liquid. The cotton top of a Q-tip soaks it up — breathes in the poison — like it’s alive. Each white fiber expands, taking on its color, like a web of molasses.

I stare at his water-stained ceiling. Rot from the upstairs apartment bleeding through the paint. The edges plume out and peel in the shape of mushrooms. I close my eyes. I see the tip of his needle drink it in. — His Heroin.

The plunger pulls back, and the spoon empties, like a tide going out. Smooth. Like a thick, dark caramel — drawn up by the moon. I cry quietly as I watch the way his cat just sits at the bathroom door. Waiting. — “C’mere kitty kitty.” I whisper.

I feel him poke his veins. Stick them. I found the syringes in his top drawer. Again. I hold the tops of my arms. I am outside my body. The girl is on the bed and the junkie is in the bathroom. I’m confused by my own acceptance. I allow this. My story. His story. Either way, it’s a war story. A story where sharp objects are made blunt and hard hearts are made harder. A world that defeats me with permission, not conquest. Then, I become her — some version of her — His Heroine. No. No. That’s wrong. It’s — His Heroin.

Some junkies will tell you that until you shoot dope, you don’t understand. — The high. The letting go. The relief. — It’s not true though. You don’t even have to move to understand. Just sit. Wait. — I sat perfectly still. I sat in another room while it swirled around me, not in me. A demon in the vents. You don’t have to feel that ugly, brown stuff pulse in your own, blue veins to witness its power.

Yield to it. Vulgar and dark. A power that turns your Hero into someone else. Something else. And then, you watch this creature lose everything. Lose themselves. Lose you.

But really………they just let you go.

Everything’s gone. And, all the while, I’m right there, it’s all right there. I try to trick myself into believing something that isn’t true. But, the cat’s still sitting, waiting, his tail curled neatly around his soft, white feet. And it is true.

He will give up anything. Anything. And, I learn, this includes me. It hits like a revelation. Christ Our Lord, where are you? I’ll never be sure. But, look, listen! The stained ceiling. The vent. The sink. The flick-flick-flick. The breathing cotton. The needle pulls.

I’ve dreamed it. No — no. I’m still awake. I’m still frozen. Me. The cat. We’re sitting in the same places.

I’ve seen it in the movies. I’ve read my Burroughs. It’s not the same. It’s not the same as watching him. Reading him. Feeling him slip. I cast him off like a thin line from the side of my boat, and he’s just a heavy lure sinking into the depths of this — some bottomless lake. His eyes disappear in a pool of water.

I imagine how he feels when he ties one off. How it makes him safer than I ever could. How the needle is the lover I never was and never can be. Sometimes, I imagine that he is a drunk, like me — not this. I imagine that the scars on his arms and legs are from something else — like the butts of his father’s cigarettes, maybe. It’s easier when I have someone to blame.

Fuck the poppy.

In the Springtime a coworker tells me — “It’s such a happy little flower!” I smile at her, but behind my face, under my skin, I grit my teeth. Poppies. At their dark, sticky center — lives the seed. Devil’s sap. I won’t eat your poppy seed bagels. Not anymore. And, now, I check the ingredients on the back of the multi-grain bread.

Heroin. Just a seed. It will always be stuck in my teeth. I will poke at my gums forever — but no amount of prodding will free it. It’s right there. On the tip of my tongue. At the base of my molar.

He is in the bathroom and I’m sitting on the bed. Waiting.
Later — with eyes half closed, he asks: “You didn’t see me, did you?”

“No.” I say.

But, while he sleeps, I do see it. How his love has left his body. And with gloves and bleach, I wash it away.

All that blood on the bathroom walls.

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

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.