Anne Lamott says bird by bird, but this chapter has been the kind of metamorphosis that typically exists in science fiction - no birds existed at the start or finish - rather, it has been completely bizarre, with full discombobulation and incomplete or incalculable recombobulation. I’ve become something totally unrecognizable, which seems to be par for the course these days, in these United States.
I’m in a state of mourning and grief, which I’ve tried to skip by paving over with more mourning and grief, inappropriate sexual relations, some stress, a few automobile accidents, some codependence, and a little bit of accidental home amputation.
Oh, and work.
I think I’m one of the fortunate few who doesn’t turn to the typical - the alcohol, the drugs, the evenings full of monotony: Netflix and News. It seems my preference is to attempt to transcend the pain and personal loathing that comes from the collapse of one relationship by immediately patching over it with another. And this worked - sort of - maybe - for a portion of my life, but in my vapid attempts to escape myself through the cunning use of other, I’ve never quite sorted out how to fully escape from myself.
Peter is escaping from me now - or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself. He’s going to India on a spiritual journey of the Self, amid the ashrams and meditation holes, the slums and cremation stations. If you’ve asked me how I feel about it, I’ve sometimes said sad, or abandoned, or angry. And these are all true. I have felt a variety of things, mostly at the same time, mostly on the 10 end of the 1-10 scale.
Intensity is something I do well.
My instinct is to jump into something else - seek out someone to fix, or someone to fix me. To be half of a unit, even if I have to do More Effort than would reasonably be my share. Because being alone is something I cannot tolerate. It’s a place I’ve never really known, a place my parents never warned me about and every movie of my childhood told me was the source of all suffering in the world. I’d like to paint over the bloodshed and the tears of this last chapter with a fresh coat of paint - maybe some stucco, to hide the places where I kicked through the wall. Spackle for the mortal wounds we each inflicted in an attempt to set the other free.
Except I think that this will keep happening, and eventually, the walls of this cave will swallow me whole.
I know that Peter isn’t doing this for me, even though he sometimes says he is, sometimes with nice words and sometimes with the sharp words that no one who knows him could ever imagine him uttering. I like to fight back, not promising fidelity or even that I’ll meet up in India with him at the end of this chapter. It isn’t exactly what I want to say, or what I mean, but I’m not sure that even the writer in me can fully express the simultaneous gratitude and rage at his decision. Gratitude at the time and space, rage at the abandonment.
It is difficult to admit that I’m a difficult person to live with. That the baggage I come with is that annoying-ass present that continues to yield box after gift-wrapped box, the sadist’s matryoshka doll of all of the Things I never took the time to feel or unwrap myself. An insidious gift for anyone who gets too close to see. I’ve recognized that this is not unique to me, that we all have various sorts of unusual baggage at the backs of our closet or up on cinderblocks in the front yard. We have this mistaken belief that we are here in this life to learn and take on, to earn more, make more, create more, have more. But I think that’s a modern mistake, compounded by our access to Stuff and our unwillingness to let go. I have it. I feel the inner hoarder in me, who has carefully and skillfully packed away all of the emotions I chose not to feel into matching rubbermaid containers in the basement, amid the original packing material of the things I haven’t decided belong to me, the dust, the erosion, and of course, the layers of sentiment. Or sediment. Grief, the silt that completely obscures my vision as I dig through treasures forgotten at the bottom of my emotional ocean.
I have withdrawn into the smallest room of my house: a nest I built for myself over the last seven years. It overlooks the canyon, the mountains, the sunrise. It doesn’t have other people’s shit in it, nor is it more than I can handle. I’m retreating into the tidiest corner of my mind to slowly and methodically unpack Jon’s death, my divorce, the infidelity and incredible and shameful compromises I made in order to fit into whatever identity mattered to be half of a whole. The incredibly old baggage that simply will not disintegrate on it’s own, like sexual abuse, relationship abuse, and The Ones That Got Away.
(I keep typing hole, by the way. Like I’m half of a hole, which is the most succinct way to describe how I actually feel right now.)
I suppose this is where the gratitude for Peter exists. That he’s escaping the mess that I’m in because he’s got his own baggage that he’s tried to outrun in his own ways, and boy does it feel cramped when everyone is unpacking and feeling. Wouldn’t it just be easier to drink, or gamble, or fix absolutely anyone else?
Yes. Except that it’s completely impossible to fix someone else. I know this. It feels like birth. Instead of doing the work that is needed, we have to do the surrounding work. Defend the door, the space. Bring cool towels and dangle precariously around the edges of the bathtub, applying the healing touch that reminds the animal body - the body that has no use for words - that as messy and as incredibly terrible as each feeling may be, the way is through.
And the way is alone.
This last chapter has felt most like transition - the angry, incessant and unyielding phase before one decides to walk through the fire. The chapter where we hang on to the life we lived, complain about the pain, lose direction and perspective. The rabbit hole that cannot be understood or explained to anyone on the outside: cracked-out caterpillars, unbirthdays, and all.
This chapter? I have a sense that this chapter is the pushing phase. Potentially equally long or longer, with sustained effort in a particular direction. Wasted effort as the path is paved, two steps forward, one step back. Better to conserve the energy and allow the body to push than to intellectualize the process.
Sweet Jesus, that’s terrifying.
What I’ve noticed about the pushing phase from watching birth, is that it feels as though it will never end - and then it ends. Almost as a surprise. With disbelief that something has been born – that something which occupied you has escaped.