Sunday, January 24, 2016

The drill sergeant

(This is sooo long!!! Why??? Don't read this. Please just X out. This is embarrassing.  I only write this crap for myself. And my mom. And Eileen. And Steph. But I don't expect them to read this either.)

(Really. Go.  I won't mind.)

(Also, I have been working on this for five hours now, and I can't edit it one more time, and it needs some serious revision--moving whole chunks around, etc--but I'm done and don't care anymore. So here it is):

I'm sure most people are this way, but naturally I think I am unique (yeah, I know: I'm not).  You know how you have, like, twenty to fifty people living in your head and they all constantly talk to you?  For the most part, I'm ok with this.  In fact, I think that's why I'm an introvert and why I like being alone 90% of the time--I don't really need too many voices outside of me because I can hardly keep track of all the voices inside of me.  It's too much.  I know I should do meditation and all that ... but I kinda like things the way they are. Most of the time.  I've never done well with silence.  Internal silence, that is--external silence is usually fine.

Anyway, the loudest of these voices is the Drill Sergeant.  DS is not to be f*cked with.  When he yells, I listen.  Sometimes a little too closely.  Sometimes I should question him more, but most of the good stuff I've done in this life is all because of him.  Questioning him usually leads to agony anyway because he's all like, "DO THIS. NOW," and I'm all like, "But I don't wannaaaaaaaa ... [anguished emoji]."  So usually I just do what he says and everything's fine, things get done (usually pretty beautifully), and everyone in my life goes, "Wow!! You're so amazing!" and I say, "aw, gee thanks," and in my head I think, "Yeah, not really. I can't take credit for any of this. But I won't go there because it's way too complicated.  So you keep on believing the illusion and I'll just keep working the magic with my smoke and mirrors ..."

I think everyone knows DS. I think if I wrote out a list of all the things I've done because I had DS screaming in my ear, you would be like, "Duh.  I have this too.  It's called will power."  Like I said, I'm not that special.  This sounds really weird, and it's sort of a tangent, but I know there's some connection between my physical size (small to the point of being literally overlooked) and my will power: When you figure out around 6 or 7 that you are really, really small--and like, all kids that age are small, but when other small kids your age are like, "You are SMALL"--something clicks (or doesn't) where you realize, "Shit, if anyone's gonna see me, I'm gonna have to talk constantly, and kinda loudly, about stuff that matters or no one's gonna notice me.  I need to figure out how to appear much bigger than I really am ..."  Later, when a doctor confirms for you at thirteen that you are not getting any bigger ever--unless it's side to side--this only makes it more imperative to take up more space in the most figurative way possible.

This chasing after an appearance of largeness has spilled over to nearly every area of my life.  I might be small, but I am not easily defeated.  Sure, I whine and complain about everything all the time, but people who know me also know that when I am at my quietest, you better get the F outta my way--head for the hills, people!!--because I'm preparing to steamroll something that has FINALLY stopped scaring me.  And whatever that thing is ... ? Well. God help it.  Because this small girl is gonna crush something's ass and write about it in the history books afterward.  And how do I do that? Because I got DS in my corner, screaming and yelling and pushing me around until I finally freaking do whatever it is that has to get done.  DS never loses his voice and apparently never requires sleep, which is both efficient and existentially exhausting ... sometimes to the point of crushing my very bones or totally depleting my lungs of every ounce of air.

If the past six months didn't turn me into a raging alcoholic or smoker, then nothing ever will.

(This is why I don't deal with people who yell at me. I already have someone yelling at me 24 F-ing hours a day.  You're gonna yell at me too?  You wanna lay on a guilt trip?  An extra layer of shame?  Nope. No: You're not.  In your dreams, maybe.  If you're lucky.  Only one person is allowed to yell at me, and that's DS.  So back away. Slowly. Carefully.  And I'm gonna count to ten and generously give you a head start.  You're gonna need it.  Sadly for you, it won't be enough because this little girl has disproportionately long legs for her size.  Come on--tie up your laces. I'll wait.  Tie 'em up, baby.  Won't make a difference when I tackle your ass to the ground.  ONE ...)

(If you think I'm lying, ask my dissertation chair. She figured this one out the wrong way. The Very Wrong Way.  And do I have her signature on all my defense paperwork? F-ing hell, yes I do.  She learned to be just a little bit afraid of me.)

But this is the thing: DS is my most powerful weapon. He's awful and needs to be tamed to a large degree, but I cannot deny at all that anything I've ever done that's mattered has been largely to his credit. 

Ok, so who cares about this and why does any of this matter?  (I know, I know, none of this matters--got it.  Yet you are still reading ... come on.  You have NOTHING better to do?  I take zero blame for the time you are wasting.)

I moved because of DS.  Ron had wanted to move for about two years before the day I read that letter from the HOA. (Do you see now who read the HOA letter? Not me--DS.  DS roared after reading the letter; DS marched over to the phone and picked it up; DS put the realtor on the calendar ...)  Ron wasn't at all upset when I called to tell him what I had done.  He had been waiting two years for me to make that call.  And all it took was the HOA yelling at me about the deck they didn't own to get me to do it.  See how smart Ron is? He knew not to yell at me about moving so he could have a shorter commute.  He knew something or someone at some point would say the wrong thing to me and set me the F off ... and everything would just fall into place.  It took two years for it to happen, but it happened.

I stared at the phone in my hand and was like, "SHIT this is happening. This ball has started rolling.  That's it. This is over. It's done." (You have to back up to the last post if you have no clue what I'm talking about.  That's the bad part about this format.)  And done it was.  DS did it.

So here's the thing: there's a million more stories at this point of selling Amber and finding the new place.  But, let's keep skipping around here.  Chronology is overrated.

Some moron left this on my windshield.  Thank God I didn't see who because I probably would've punched them.

We moved to the new place on September 16th.  Two hours after the movers left us here, the winning offer came in for Amber (that's its own crazy weird story), and part of that deal was that settlement would take place on October 14th.  September flew by, and so did October and November (I still feel like Thanksgiving was YESTERDAY!! BUT IT WASN'T!!!). And December? Forget it. Gone in the blink of eye.  And then the dead pit of a black hole that is January arrived.  And with it comes school and all the mental and emotional preparation that that takes--a reality that eats you alive even when it feels good and you welcome it.

We had been in this house for 4.5 months.  And every morning I was still waking up and initially freaking out the first five seconds I was awake: "WHOA!!! WHERE THE F AM I? WHY AM I NOT HOME??? ooohhhhhh right ... I live here now." Every morning.  For nearly five months. 

Every single day during the fall semester, class would start to wind down and I would feel the air stop circulating through my chest in the middle of a sentence: Apparently (I had no idea that I even did this until after I moved), during the last half hour of my three hour class, my mind would start moving on to the rest of my night--all the stuff I had to do on my way home and everything I had to do once I made it there.  Without fail, these images would include me walking through Amber's front door to my brightly lit family room and setting all my stuff down at the bottom of my steps.  My mind would walk through this scenario--on total autopilot--in the background of whatever lecture I was giving in class.  Suddenly DS would interrupt and go, "WHOAAAA!!! WHOA WHOA WHOA, KID: YOU DON'T LIVE THERE ANYMORE!!  STOP IT.  LEAVE. NOW. YOU DON'T LIVE THERE.  BACK OUT. SLAM THE DOOR.  BACK. AWAY." And the image would evaporate like blowing out a candle, and I would come-to at the front of the room with 22 students patiently waiting for me to finish whatever sentence I had started and left dangling.  

This happened a lot.  An image of Amber would float right up to the front of my mind--so real!!--and a little girl in my head would say, "Hey, that's my home! I love it there ..." and her voice would trail off just as DS would come frantically marching into the room: "STOP STOP STOP. NO NO NO NO NO--NO YOU DON'T. YOU DON'T LIVE THERE. STOP.  THAT'S GONE.  KEEP MOVING KEEP MOVING--YOU HAVE A MILLION OTHER THINGS TO DO!!! LET'S GO LET'S GO!!!!" And I would slam the door on that thought or that image and continue with whatever task I had frozen in my hands.  DS would make sure I wasn't faking and after a few minutes would back off and leave the room.

People would ask me, "Hey! How's the new house!" And I would be like, "Fine! Good!" Without fail, the next question would be about Amber.  And without fail, I would bust into full out ugly cry in less than two seconds--complete reflex.  Just ugly ugly ugly cry.  Totally spontaneously.  Honestly, it would take my reflexes longer to get my hand away from a live socket or hot stove.  And then whoever I'd be talking to would be like, "Ohhhh!!! whoa!!!! are you ok??? No! don't feel bad!! I'm really sorry!!!" and more scarily all of them would say, "Does Ron know you feel like this?" which would make me all, "Why the F does it matter if Ron knows this? He can't fix this," and then I would be doing that horrible dance of trying to talk like I'm not sobbing, apologizing for behaving like a toddler who wants a cookie, rescuing my wasted eyeliner, and avoiding looking like an F-ing lunatic in a public place, all while trying to ignore DS SCREAMING AT ME TO STOP CRYING!!!!!!!! STOP CRYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! STOP!!!!!!!!!!! CRYING!!!!!!!!!!!!! STOP CRYING YOU RIDICULOUS F-ING BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Inevitably, the person I'd be sitting with would be like, "uummmm ... do you ... regret? ... moving? ..." and I would just be like, "DUDE, I HAVE NOT HAD ONE UNDERSTANDABLE EMOTION SINCE JUNE.  I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I FEEL RIGHT NOW.  I HAVE NOT FELT ANYTHING SINCE JUNE."  This happened 3+ times with different people between Christmas and January 8th.  It had finally reached a point where I was like, "Ok, know what? I can't deal.  I cannot function like this."  This moment occurred in the middle of dinner on Friday, January 8th.  Ron was sitting across the table from me in "our kitchen," and while I was staring at the tile floor (that I have hated since Day 1 but you know: trade-offs. Can't have it all ...) I could feel The Cry of the Century just coming on me the same way you know, "Ohhhhhhmigod ... I'm gonna be sick ..."  I placed my fork on my plate.  I walked up the steps.  I shut my bathroom door behind me and curled up into a ball on the floor.  And then I proceeded to sob to the point of near-asphyxiation.

At some point, I became vaguely aware of Ron's presence.  I could also hear my inner Diva saying, "You know, you're visiting Annie in NYC tomorrow, and your face is just gonna be wrecked.  Like, beyond wrecked. You look like someone has beat your face with a bat ... You know what? Just keep crying because there's no helping you now.  Yeah. Nevermind.  I'll come find you later.  I'll bring ice packs."

At the same time, Ron is like, "What is wrong. You need to tell me what is wrong."  But I literally cannot talk, and he just keeps asking me this question over and over, and finally I manage to say in that horribly snotty-mucus-hiccupy voice that one acquires in such a state:

"I ... WANT ... TO ...  GO ... HOME ... PLEASE ... CAN ... I ... GO ... HOME?"

And Ron said, "Ohhhhhhhhh ... Every part of your daily life revolved around that house, didn't it?  And now it's not yours anymore."

"That house was grafted into my skin!  Fused into my bones!!! And everyone thinks everything is still normal AND IT'S NOT." (Don't be fooled--it took me six minutes to physically say those three sentences.)

I felt completely homeless.  I felt like a bum sitting on the curb.  Since September.

He got it.

And then I spent what felt like another hour describing every. single. detail. about. Amber.  The way the key felt in my hand. How the lock in the front door turned. The sound of each light switch (different switches click in different ways ...).  The sound each cabinet and drawer made in the kitchen (because each door closed with a different weight ...). I mean everything--all of it.  I inched my way through every F-ing square inch of that house.  Turned all the lights on and off, open and closed every door, turned every burner of the stove on and off ("click click click ... click ... WHOOOSH"), wondered at the water ring on the wood ledge at the top of the steps (it was there before we moved in), listened to the sound of the squeaky brakes on the shuttle bus on south campus through the open bedroom window ... all of it.

I hadn't done any of this literally since October 13th, and apparently I really REALLY needed to do it in my head.  So easy! So why didn't I?  Because of DS.  DS was so thrown off by ... I don't even know what.  I guess he's so obsessed with GETTING SHIT DONE AND GETTING IT DONE NOW--AS IN YESTERDAY-NOW!!--that he knew (or assumed) that any thought of what I really loved and missed would just slooooooowww down the works.  And when you have 29 students spread over two different classes and you're frantically creating seven new three-hour lesson plans for crap (really hard crap!) you've barely studied ever, and you're 10 miles further away from your entire normal life and routine, and you always just feel like an inadequate friend/daughter/sister/wife/teacher/everything anyway ... well, you really just can't go there.  Because nobody has time to fall apart over what has been done--over what she has willingly chosen!--and God forbid anybody have the wrong impression and mistake your tears for self-pity and falsely conclude that you must be some kind of spoiled brat whining about a new house.  Nobody has time for that.  So when crap would float to the surface of my mind--crap that desperately wanted to be remembered and reflected upon--DS would show up and do the dirty work for me: sweep it all away, shove it back into boxes, tape it up, and feed it into the mouths of the shadows to be temporarily forgotten again.  Like everything else DS does, it was fast, efficient, thorough, and it worked. But like any band-aid solution, it only worked for so long.  The shadows threw up their mess of a diet for the last time on the 8th.

I've never been so worn out in my entire life.

I knew when I woke up on the 9th that things would have to start changing or I really would start to die while alive, which is worse than straight-up dying.  While I was getting ready to catch my train to NYC (and damn, yes, my face looked like it had been beaten with a bat.  I had to soak my face under ice-cold washcloths for fifteen minutes to make it look like I still had eyes), I had this crazy epiphany: I thought of the two people I know who live in apartments, Leslie and Annie.  I am obsessed with both of their places, and they both love where and how they live.  I know if I asked them, "Ugh, what do you hate about your apartment?" they would both have a few things to mention, like "I hate blah blah blah because I would never choose that color, but whatever," and "Such-and-such annoys the hell out of me, but whatever I don't really use it" or "I don't even notice it, so who cares?"  And I'm willing to bet that whatever they list would elicit THIS response from me: "WHAT???? Why do you hate that??? I LOVE that about your place! It's so cute and charming and omigod! No! I can't believe that annoys you."  And suddenly it clicked: Why can't I feel that way about where I live?  For example, aesthetically speaking, my new kitchen sucks ass in comparison to my Amber kitchen. It just does.  Only a full-out-gut-it-to-the-studs can really save it, and I knew that when we bought it.  But we bought it. And here we are. And here I am everyday with the same life I had before June, just inside a different box in a different zip code.  And every time I compare the new box to the old one, it makes me SO SAD.  REALLY REALLY SAD.  And here comes DS--yadda yadda--the cycle continues.

I went to NYC because it was Gemma's first bday party.  Annie wore suede shorts and a silk blouse that could've killed me, they were that gorgeous.

We bought a ton of cheese at the Whole Foods between midtown and the UES ... one of the cheeses was from a farm that's like literally around the corner from me.  So we bought some.

So ... can I treat my new space with the same manner of thinking that I use when admiring other people's places?  Places that have strange, quirky, less-than-perfect things that I admire rather than reject?  I mean ... I should be able to do that--that's doable, right?  Huuuuhhhhhhh ...

It took me five months to figure this out.

Five months.

Basically, that's half a year.

But this is the part that really makes me do the whole face-palm thing: The same part of my mind that DEMANDS getting stuff done fast/now/perfectly in the most focused manner I can muster, etc etc etc is the same part of my mind that derailed any attempt at adjusting--in that manner--to the biggest thing I've been through in years.

What is that about?


Yeah, me neither.

I mean, come on.  Is this not the dumbest story you've ever heard?

Ok, granted, I've been this way my WHOLE LIFE.  But this is the first time it borderline almost-wrecked my life.  And I really mean "almost-wrecked" too.  My foundations were rocked.  It's like I survived a 9.5 earthquake and the rest of Philly is like, "What earthquake? What are you talking about?" and I'm like, "I am legit cray ...  am I the only one who sees this totally transformed landscape?" and before I could really reflect on it, DS would start screaming at me to ignore it and move on.

I was a wreck this fall.  Not that (most of) you would've guessed it.  And while it was painful ... it wasn't BAD.  It just ... was.  There was no other way around it--it just had to happen.  I wish it could've happened faster, but it didn't.


Cat lady esq said...

All I can say is, to some extent, a home is about the creatures in it. The rest is just a shell. I know it's easy for me to say that but I like to believe it. Also, drinker has taught me: distract, distract, distract. Staying busy shushes all those voices and then when you have some precious time all you want to do is be happy and hang out with your favorites (preferably with some good food)

Tiff said...


Anonymous said...

Sometimes we just need to be sad! Like in the movie Inside Out (...seriously, why are all my fav movies recently kids movies?...). Thinking of you! - Sarah S