This is what we do when we sneak off to the bathroom at a friend’s home. What do you do?
Sometimes I think I have a really solid idea of what I look like. On the outside. It’s been days. Weeks. Months. I haven’t really looked at myself hard in the mirror, granted, but I’ve lost a number of pounds and gone down a number of clothing sizes and I’m feeling more than adequate. I’m feeling good.
Pretty. More than pretty? Yes, when my husband looks at me a certain way, I feel more than pretty. And I guess I’m looking at myself through his eyes more than my own. Which has severe disadvantages when he’s having an off day. Judging yourself by how someone else sees you is always a trap and completely unfair to both people.
I’m working on gathering how I see myself back under my own purview, being more self-reliant. Really looking at myself. Part of what’s so scary about it, is really seeing myself and being ok with what I see. Letting go of what I think I’m supposed to look like and being fine with what I actually look like. Because let’s face it – I look like I look, whether I’m fine with it or not.
Friends, riddle me this: How many times does a girl have to eat the perfect three bites out of the center of a delicious buttermilk pancake to learn that even those three mouth-watering, delectable bites will probably send her on emergent trips to the restroom a scant few hours later while the Target pharmacist is trying to talk to her about getting all her meds to auto-refill on the same day of the month? I eat Paleo for a reason. And yet. Every. Single. Time.
Here’s what I love about this picture:
1. I haven’t yet eaten 3 bites of a pancake that are going to make me ill.
2. Joe’s hair. I mean, really.
Here are our shoes while we wait for a table.
I assure you, Joe does have another shoe attached to another leg just to the right, off frame.
And then, and I know this is really exciting for you all, I changed shoes a few hours later and put on these before we went out with friends:
You guys, I love these shoes. I really, really, do. They are orange. They are cork. My husband says they are sexy. Most importantly, I can walk in them and not fall down.
The evening ended at Top of the Hyatt with friends where we imbibed cocktails and talked for hours and stared at the view. I love being able to see Emerald Plaza from up there (green rings far right in the image below).
This is what I see in the morning when I fire up my computer. This guy. I mean, I also see the live version walking around the house, so in that respect, whatever, but when the live version is at work, it’s nice to have this version on my screen.
Me: If you tell me the problem is with me and not with my machine, we’re going to have a big problem.
Joe: What do you want me to say?
Me: Tell me the problem is with my hardware. Or my software. Whatever. I don’t care.
Joe: So, just not with you.
Joe: You’ve done nothing wrong.
Me: Right. Exactly. Say that.
Joe: You’ve made no mistakes.
Me: Thanks. Yes. I’ve made no mistakes. Nothing is my fault. As far as you know, every goddamn thing I’ve done up until this point has been exemplary and I’ve done every single thing P.E.R.F.E.C.T.
Me: What. What!
Me: Why are you looking at me like that? Is it so hard to imagine that I haven’t done anything wrong and the problem is really with my laptop and not with me? Because it-
Joe: I was pretty sure the next thing out of your mouth was going to be, “By the way, I also invented WordPress.”
Me: I did. I invented WordPress.
Joe: *sigh* And that’s why I married you.
i looked up and you were staring at me,
your eyes were a little too wide,
your lashes long and dark.
i love you like crazy, i said,
and you suddenly smiled, looked down.
you packed at the last minute
throwing things in a duffel
it’s your way, it’s a good way.
i love you like mad, i whispered,
and you squeezed my hand, grabbed your toothbrush.
you wrapped me up in warm
kissed me hard, again, then again
the airport doors shwapped open and ate you whole.
i love you so hard, i said, you’re my favorite
but you were already gone.
Take me to the beach, I whispered, silky soft in his ear.
He wrapped me in his warmth beneath the covers.
I need to see the waves in every shade of green and blue and frothy white, I told his mind without uttering a sound.
He padded down the hall, got his sandals, keys.
We drove five miles, wind whistling through the vent, the heater waking up.
Ocean water swirled and raced, bubbled, then calmed and went away.
Surfers danced on ten foot waves through the pilings, praying their religion under the pier.
Grit between my toes, pulling my sweater close, I took a breath and then another.
He took my hand, pointed out evidence of birds, busy as on every other day, beaking mites from the sand.
Today is different, I told them as we walked. Today I’m in remission.
The wind whipped my words away before they heard me.
They wouldn’t care, even if they knew.
We went for eggs, forked avocado and endless coffee.
Across the table, he smiled, wrapping me in the warmth of his eyes.
I smiled back.
Something caught my eye. I looked up and to the right and saw a woman in her late forties trying to help her aging mom down the stadium steps. Her mother was petrified. She was shaking her head no and holding on to the safety banister for dear life. The daughter pulled her mother’s arms, trying to get her to budge.
It was her feet. I couldn’t stop looking at her feet. Pink Keds with white laces folded around white ankle socks. The way the foot tapped around looking for some safe place to be, the feet of someone older, someone less steady. I saw Grandma Jean in those feet.
Joe turned to me and asked, “Should I help?” “Yes! Do it now!” I replied.
I remembered how Grandma Jean had been scared to fall. How Joe and his aunts and uncles had at first helped her move from chair to walker, walker to car. One person in front, one on the side and someone in back so she would feel safe. Then it was chair to walker to bed. And then there wasn’t a lot of moving anywhere anymore.
I heard the older woman murmuring in a small voice and I wondered if she had dementia. Something about how she didn’t seem to recognize her daughter or the place or what they were doing. She was just afraid to the exclusion of everything else.
I thought about my dad. His dementia has made it nearly impossible to carry on a phone conversation. I miss him. I miss the old him that would get into a lively discussion about pretty much anything and told the corniest jokes in the universe. The kind that made you groan so deep you could cause an earthquake. I love this latest version of him, this softer, gentler version, I will always love however he is, but I hate the disease that makes him unsure of how to speak to someone in case he just asked that question a minute ago or makes him forget who those nice people are in his home, my kids. I hate the uncertainty on his face knowing he’s worried on the inside and aware enough to feel scared or stupid or ashamed.
In an instant Joe jumped up and went behind the older woman, grasping her around the waist and telling her in her ear, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. You won’t fall. I’ve got you.” And I watched my husband help support her weight and walk her down those steps to sit by her husband, who this entire time had been standing in the row, waiting for his wife, with a look of frustration and love on his face, having been told to stay put by the daughter, realizing his older body wasn’t going to be of much help getting his wife down the stairs, but being unable to sit down and relax until she was next to him, his fists clenching and unclenching.
It was awkward, that walking down the steps all together, the daughter in front showing her mom the way and Joe in back supporting her weight. They jerked down one step at a time. People were starting to stare. Joe kept encouraging her, never stopped talking in her ear. Slowly the procession made it to the row and there was profuse thanks from the daughter and her father to Joe as they all sat down.
I was overcome with so many feelings and started to weep a little. I saw Grandma Jean, my dad, myself in 40 years, and even Phyllis who was loved by everyone but especially her family, just as this woman was.
And I fell deeply in love with my husband all over again.
Today was a low day. A very low day.
In another life, today would have been the day I decided things were too hard to bear and so bleak I’d never see the blue skies again.
I would have left my OBGYN results appointment (from the same woman who raked me internally) knowing she wants me to get my uterus biopsied because she thinks it’s precancerous and knowing she wants me to get on birth-control pills and remembering how she called me a liar just moments before when I showed her my daily food logs and exercise chart, because I’m fat, so I must not be telling her the truth. And how she rolled her eyes at me when I explained how painful the fibroids in my breasts make a mammogram.
I would have placed those thoughts next to the ones from the two rheumatologists who tell me I have lupus and need to take antimalarial drugs and noninflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers and it doesn’t matter what I eat or what drugs I take, my life is going to be painful, however long it lasts.
And then I would have added the words from my psychiatrist who told me I need to up my dose of some things and add other things and that fibromyaligia is mostly all in my head. Because I have bipolar, along with other things.
With those things lined up next to each other to look at, I would have added my guilt at not earning money to pay for all these doctors and tests and how uncomfortable I feel calling my health My Full-time Job right now. And how shameful I feel thinking about applying for disability in case I never have reliable healthcare. And how ashamed I feel that I have such a need for it.
I would have really honed in on that shame and guilt and despair and frustration at my inability to change things to be easier.
Then I would have gone to bed. Maybe fantasized about selfharm. Maybe begun the journey toward the romantic notion of ending it all, because surely that would be better for my family who has to watch and feel helpless and uncomfortable at my flailing. Who must surely feel I am such a burden.
And then the darkness would have been fully descended. Over my eyes, and ears and mouth. Over my brain that couldn’t think straight anymore. And it could have been months before I resurfaced to try again if I hadn’t been successful at terminating my life and never tried again at all.
As I sat in my car, outside the hospital, dizzy with so many thoughts and feelings, I decided to breath. I made a small choice. A very small choice, to open my lungs and take in a breath, and then expel the air with a little force, listening to the sound in my throat. And then I did it again.
I thought of Grandma Jean, who just left us days ago. She fought her way back from a debilitating stroke and learned to live her life again when most people just die who experience that same stroke, it’s so damaging. I thought of her smile and quick laugh, even as her body failed her these past weeks. How she thanked me every time I did anything for her and told me she loved me even when she couldn’t recall who I was, because she knew I loved her.
Grandma had her brushes with depression and contemplating her own death. She didn’t have the knowledge or support I have with managing those symptoms. And she survived for years, decades, from sheer determination. And I’m better for knowing her. I’m so thankful I didn’t miss out on knowing her like I did. Thank you, Grandma Jean, for what you suffered in this life so I could know you.
Then I thought of Phyllis, my mother-in-law, who passed last October. The cancer never won. It was just her time to go. And she was ready. She told me so every day, but it was always with a smile and expectation of meeting her God, not sadness, fear or regret.
I watched her barely able to carry the groceries, mop the floor or move the vacuum, but refusing help because it was her sincere joy to do it. She loved her work. She delighted in doing what she could to care for others. As she told me many times, she loved the work because she loved the people she did it for, and her face would shine when she said it and I knew it was true.
As the cancer grew in her body and ate her alive, she refused to get down or be afraid. She prayed and read and worked at the soup kitchen when she could. She found new recipes and showed me how to cook them. She laughed. She was beautiful always, but when she laughed, her countenance beamed. She laughed all the time and her smile was so genuine and sincere it made you smile and laugh, too. She was a great beauty even as breath left her.
Phyllis was careful what she said and how she said it and said nothing to hurt others. I knew I was safe with her because I never heard her say an unkind thing about anyone else. She taught me so much just by being herself. The year I spent as her companion was so precious. Thank you, Phyllis, for teaching me so much about how to live as you prepared to pass. Thank you for your unconditional love even as I carried my shortcomings around on my back and brought them out to show you on occasion. Thank you for showing me how to love others with the fierce fire of love I also carry in my chest. And thank you most of all for giving birth to and raising a beautiful, caring son who has become my partner and champion. Because even with his few shortcomings and my many, we somehow make a perfect fit and support for each other.
At 3pm today I went to yoga. My Yogini welcomed me and listened while I poured out my heart in a rush and never hurried me when I paused, choking on my words and tears. She placed my body in poses while I cried and she used her own breath to show me how to better breathe out my pain. She soothed my shoulders and neck and witnessed my entire body in sorrow. Her kind and loving touch calmed my fears and sadness and in time, I felt calm and strength in my chest instead of tightness and daggers. With each breath’s inhale and exhale, my body released the old and filled with new strength.
With my eyes closed, breathing deeply, I thought of the women in my life. My daughter. My mother. My friends. My sisters and aunts and grandmas, some of them here with me now and some carried in my heart. I drew on the power of Mother Earth and felt connected to everything and everyone.
The things that are hard in my life didn’t seem so overwhelming in that moment. It felt shared, like a thousand shoulders were carrying my pain and I even felt room on my own shoulders to help carry another’s hurts, should they want or need that.
And I felt a bit of joy in the journey. It was just a bit, but large enough that I think I might find it again.