how we learn to carry and
adapt to these new affections
only to shed these skins
and forget they ever
how we learn to carry and
adapt to these new affections
only to shed these skins
and forget they ever
Being brave isn’t something you do for yourself; it’s what you do for others.
When J told me that he had a fiancée—when he casually mentioned she okayed me coming to the wedding—I knew it wasn’t something I could back out of. Pragmatically, I was fine with the entire situation. I have never been jealous when he tells me about her. I don’t imagine them kissing and burst into tears or become disgusted. I haven’t had those kind of feelings for J since shortly after we broke up. But in the weeks leading up to his day of matrimony, my stomach began to tighten. It was anticipation of what I’d imagine would be an awkward day, and I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. There would be no dancing or catching a bouquet. This was simply a favor for J.
I systematically wrote out the card and placed a personal check in the slot on the left side. I did this while filling a flask that I knew I would need. The night before I didn’t eat dinner, and I stayed up too late talking to friends.
On a sunny, humid Saturday morning, my friend came to pick me up and escort me to the wedding as his date. We also brought J’s and my old neighbor with us. I had cigarettes, good music, and liquid courage. I could do this just fine.
And guess what? I did.
There was no dramatic outburst at the reception, where I wept in the bathroom stall. I didn’t ignore his new wife or make things uncomfortable. I even had a ten-minute conversation with the bride’s grandfather; he told me about his dialysis while he forced me to eat grapes, because I wouldn’t eat anything else. I smiled big. I schmoozed everyone. Even J’s mom. It was just about all I could take, and then, luckily, it was an acceptable time to leave.
When I got home, I was met with indifference from my boyfriend. He was upset about something unrelated, and without the emotional stronghold I needed, because I had been brave for just a little too long, I crumpled into my pillow and I cried. I cried on my drive to my friends’ house after my boyfriend left to get food. I let my emotions overrun me the second I walked in their door, and when I got home, I bawled again for an immeasurably painful time. Not even my sister’s calming familiarity could soothe me. On the other end of the phone, she reminded me that I’ve always been this way. This emotional. And I knew it was true, but I couldn’t stop the outpouring. I eventually did expunge my tears, because there was nothing left in me, but it wasn’t because I ceased feeling awful inside.
There’s nothing pretty about being brave.
It feels raw and draining to pretend everything is okay and that I am not a human with normal emotions—that even though I haven’t felt romantic love for my ex fiancé in six years, it still wouldn’t rock my entire core to see and hear him say “I do” to someone else.
He and I once had picked out our own venue, standing hand-in-hand blissful that he would get to ride in on a quad, and I could have my barefoot outdoor wedding. I had tried on dresses and asked my sisters and niece to be my bridesmaids. I had the perfect ring, and I was making my guest list.
My braveness the other day was just a symbol of everything I am lacking in my own life: I do not have a husband. I may not ever. I probably will never bear a child from my own womb. J’s old promises to me were now wrapped in my own tissue paper and sitting on a table for a woman I don’t even know to tear open and write me a detached thank you note in a month’s time. And that’s it. That is all I have to show for almost six years of dedication to a man whose wedding I attended on Saturday.
Being brave felt like it was for everyone else, but perhaps it was my own stupidity. I don’t regret that I went, as I know it made J smile that I was there, but that really was the only reason why I went. To support him. He’s never been much for friends, and although we are ex partners, we’ve always been able to be pals. Yet, everyone I’ve spoken to about this past weekend has wondered how I even made it onto the guest list. They told me they would never be able to do what I did.
Does that make me foolish or does that make me brave?
Sometimes I don’t think there’s a difference.
When someone who is a writer hasn’t written in a while, there are quite possibly a number of reasons why:
I am sure there are more reasons than that, but I have experienced all four of those in the last several months.
It’s not that I haven’t written. I’ve written. I just don’t think any of it is good or complete enough to share it with the rest of the world.
Winter strips me of my humanity. I am a walking, eating, sleeping shell, who wanders through her days, seeking only the comforts of alcohol, a warm blanket, or the vicarious vacation of watching others on television.
Sometimes, there is far too much going on inside my head, or emotionally, for me to even begin to comprehend how to put those thoughts to paper.
Yesterday was Friday. I had no plans. I also had no desire to make them. I was feeling eerily down for no reason, except possibly the effects of my birth control, this weather, or the general existential angst I’ve been feeling for quite some time. I chose to lie on the couch and eat garlic bread and pizza I had ordered. I never order food when I am alone; this was an exception.
Quite drastically, something clicked over in my brain. Sort of like when a record player shifts over the grooves to the next song. I decided that I was tired of being tired. For weeks now, I have been mulling over how, lately, I am the opposite of everything my blog stands for. I have been extremely mediocre—hating it with a passivity—but mediocre, nonetheless.
Part of the problem is that I’ve lost my goal. Somewhere in the past few months I have literally misplaced the part of me that has hope. It’s been a weird sort of depression I’ve never felt before. Usually, I’ll feel ambivalence or deep pain, but never without hopefulness.
In that moment of stark realization, I had been looking at one of those online coaching programs—the ones that, through virtual means, motivate you to strive for your health and weight goals. You know, like having a personal trainer, except not.
It’s been too bare and bleak outside for me to consider being alive again. I’ve dealt with this deadness by eating. In doing so, I’ve gained back the weight I’ve lost in the past few months. I am angry at myself, which makes it worse. So, yesterday, I decided to accept that life has these natural waves and to do something about it.
I joined this online coaching program for a free two-week trial. In the set-up, it asks me:
What are your deepest reasons for why you want to reach your goal?
After giving a brief answer, it prompts me again:
Is this the real reason, or is there more?
I wrote more.
This short, virtual prompting by a non-human was strangely so thoughtful and perfect. In those few moments, I was able to succinctly put into words a large quantity of what has been bothering me for months.
It was always in my head, but placing it on paper had a real impact.
I want to have hopefulness and strive for goals. Why? It asked me.
Because I don’t want to be depressed or have existential angst.
Is this the crux of it…?
I don’t feel like me. I miss the old me.
I have known this for a long time, but verbalizing it gave it power again.
What is the old me?
Well, a lot of things, but when I wrote that I was thinking about the old, physical me, for starters. A girl who was comfortable in her own skin and looked in the mirror every day and thought (mostly) that she was beautiful and radiant.
The old me also had dreams, hobbies, energy, and spirit.
She didn’t look forward to drinking as an escape from reality. She didn’t sit on the couch, watching television for hours so the aching she felt inside could be tamped down. She looked forward to full stretches of days alone, where she could practice guitar, write, do arts and crafts, go for walks in the woods, and feel the cosmic love of the universe pour down upon her in gentle, reminding waves of compassion.
I don’t feel any of that anymore. Literally, none of it. Today, is the first day in a very long time I have felt anything.
Knowing that every day was one I was sleepily rolling through, like a person in a crowd on an escalator, was making me mediocre. Mediocrity led to helplessness and uselessness. I do not like being alive just so I can eat snacks, watch a movie, or go to work. I like being alive because I know I have some purpose. If I am not contributing to this existence in any way, I don’t want to be here.
This is the existential angst I’ve been feeling.
My dreams have been filled with nightmares and destruction for weeks. I wonder if this was my body’s way of trying to cause motion again?
My problems are far from being resolved, and this is only day one of the first step, but I have at least identified and verbalized what is causing me such stagnation.
I have finally chosen to listen to myself.
This morning has shifted from an eerie, fraught-filled one to mimosas, soul music, and lounging on the couch.
My company made the call to close the office right after Bryan had started up his car in preparation to bring me. See, the thing is, I do not drive in the snow. Not this kind of snow, at least. So, last night, before bed, the anxiety had slowly begun to pile up just like the wind-swept flakes are doing against my front door.
We’ve already shoveled our walkway twice and it’s not even 10 am.
I’ve often wondered why I’ve chosen to stay in New England, considering my deep-seeded hatred and fear of the snow. I was born in Connecticut and so, at least, for the first 18 years of life, I had no choice. Since then? My job is here. My friends and most of my family are, too. Is that enough to keep a sun-seeking person encapsulated in a several-month streak of snow and windchill?
So far it has.
In a little over a month, my sister and I are traveling to San Diego to visit our other sister. This was a smart move. As someone who is currently sitting under a full-spectrum light and becomes lethargic and depressed during the winter months, it’s about time I caught on to scheduling myself a little reprieve in the heat and sunshine.
Thank goodness for sisters who decided to join the Navy years ago, thus, ending up in a winter vacation mecca.
Right now it is calm, and I am snuggled under the fluffiest blanket that Bryan’s grammy got me last year for Christmas. Neither of us have to go anywhere today. We have a gas stove, so even if the power goes out, we’ll have warm food. My cat crawled out of her “kitten burrito” we wrapped her in a couple of hours ago and is meandering around the living room—I assume, happy that her two favorite humans are here.
We are Pittsburgh bound tomorrow afternoon, which means, I have to clear off my car this afternoon and get it ready for me to leave the house very early in the morning, so I can get out early enough to make the 8-hour drive. Before mimosas, we compiled an emergency kit to bring in the car in case we break down on the drive. They predict record freezing temperatures this weekend, which has us a little nervous. If anyone is overly prepared, however, it is me.
One of the positive traits of being a nervous wreck is that I over-think everything and make checklists of everything I’d need in any possible scenario.
The hard work for today is done.
My close-by friends are headed over to spend the day with us, and who knows, maybe I’ll pen a new “Snow Day” song to mark this day, where anxiety has been allayed, and I can just rest easy.
I am moving in a month, and the unwieldy mountain of stress is identical to the literal mass of things I own.
In an attempt to get a head start on the increasing agenda of tasks I have to do, I’ve begun to sort through miscellany. Boxes I had in storage, my medicine cabinet, old make-up… I reached into my walk-in closet last night and found a small shoebox of letters I have kept for years. Since 2006, to be precise.
It took me a few hours to sift through them all—opening each envelope, inspecting the contents, skimming the hand-crafted words that took commitment and dedication.
These letters all came from a friend who was incarcerated. He and I had dated, and right after we broke up, he did a bad thing and went to jail.
We wrote each other for the entire 6 years he was locked up.
Emotions pelted me throughout the reading like a gentle rainstorm that occasionally picked up or slowed. I was caught off guard by a sentence of deep regret, or my skin blushed by a few compliments of my beauty and effervescence about which he would sometimes reminisce.
I’ve read all of these before. Some of the sentences were so familiar even after all of these years, because, for a time, I had relied so much on the comfort and happiness those paper confessions provided me.
Yet, so many little things I had forgotten. He had written, telling me that I reminded him of a girl in the 2008 Ford Edge commercial, who was lost in thought looking up at the stars with her big, brown eyes.
Or the hand-made stamps his father would carve every year for Christmas cards, and how I had succeeded in putting every other person alive to shame (except his father) with my creative cards I sent him every year for his birthday and Christmas.
Or how he remembered that I used to eat soy bologna sandwiches and never smiled with my teeth in photographs.
It was such a strange and unusual bond we created during his time away, because we both avowed to continue the practice of hand-written letters.
We’d talk about our rituals of writing, where we sat, and what our surroundings looked like as we penned long notes to each other. He’d start letters off with a gregarious greeting, punctuated with far too much excitement for his caged-in existence, musing with eloquent language about my current antics. He shared an intimate look at the inside of a penitentary, while I wrote on and on about outings, my cats, my relationship woes, and, apparently, how great my ass was looking (that came up a few times—I know, because he made sure to comment in his letters sent back).
I held a six-year time capsule that was one-sided. I only had his letters, so I had to fill in the gaps of what was going on in my own world, while he talked about his. I could infer from his commentary easily, and it was like a nicely boxed-up version of my life from the moment he went to jail until the day Rocky and I first broke up. That was the last letter from him before he was released—commenting on how sorry he was to hear about my breakup. That was in 2013.
The letters began with talk of him missing his Myspace page and texting on his phone, and galloped forward into Facebook, various tv shows that had their popularity over that time period, and onward still to mention my employment at the company for which I still work.
I remember when he was released to a half-way house and I was finally able to talk to him on the phone. He had a crappy flip phone, and we talked for over two hours that first night. I chain-smoked cloves, and we delved into everything we didn’t say in our letters.
I went to visit him at his job in West Hartford. We talked a few more times.
That was a few years ago.
He’s free and we don’t talk. Convenience and real life has stripped us of our intimate bond.
But we are Facebook friends…
He often wrote to me, expressing his gratitude for my continued devotedness to writing him, but in the last letter, he stated that I had swayed his mind on womanhood, which went beyond his expectations and even broke down the rusted barrier of his misguided trust.
And now we don’t talk.
The gentle rain of emotions pelted me a little harder right then.
I always re-read everything personal before purging it. I set aside an entire evening to remember. It was only four years later that I decided to take the shoebox down from the shelf, because I need to simplify my personal belongings before moving.
The stress and commitment of moving has caused me to remember what a great friend I have had all these years. How I was once capable of staying true to a friendship with a steadfastness that is only now seen in the few hours left I have to vacate this apartment and start fresh.
Hand-written letters may never be in our future again, but I hope he knows when he reads this that, even in silence, the bonds of friendship still lie.
I know you didn’t mean to call me gross when you grabbed your non-existent gut and exclaimed how disgusting you were, but you, a current skinny girl, were standing right next to me, a former one.
If I had to objectively assess myself I would say I am medium build and somewhat athletic, since I am hitting the gym, seeing a personal trainer, and finally putting some tone back on my body. So, this letter is not from someone who is morbidly obese or might be considered overweight by others, but according to what my scale says, and according to what my personal trainer has been paid to tell me, I’m technically overweight.
I have struggled with my body image for years, even when I was a size 0 and could stuff my face with cookies and chicken nuggets for dinner on a regular basis if I had wanted. Now, reaching my mid-thirties and coming to terms with my altered metabolism, even while eating regimented salads, burgers with no bun, quinoa, zucchini pasta, and lean chicken, I can’t seem to win. I probably workout approximately four to five times a week and have hardly seen results. I don’t buy bread anymore, I choose salmon over pasta, and make spinach and kale smoothies nearly every morning.
Most people do not mean to hurt the feelings of others when talking about their own bodies, but it happens. I am not writing to call someone out on bullying; I am writing because I used to be her: the skinny girl with maybe two ounces of fat on her body, who complained about her looks to garner the attention of those around her.
People who are unhappy with their bodies don’t go around lifting their shirts up to show their flesh. We are the ones in the corner quietly shaming ourselves for being pieces of garbage and thinking about how we should not have indulged in that slice of pizza, placing unrealistic and undoubtedly harsh expectations on ourselves.
I don’t want to be taunted by my guy friends, asking where my six-pack is (which is rock-solid and hiding under a small layer, by the way), and I don’t want to be the invisible female in the room, because the tinier, more fit one is standing a couple of feet away.
I realize that someone commenting on my body when I didn’t ask them to is not my fault, and I no longer have this strong desire to caper around men, begging for attention. I just don’t. Some of it might be because I have some extra weight I don’t feel comfortable with, but mostly, it’s because I realize who I used to be, and I don’t like that person.
I used to be that girl who saw something in a magazine and knew if I bought it, it would almost always look the same way on me.
I was that girl who felt uncomfortable when I was around people who legitimately complained about their weight, because I knew I was a poser only seeking attention. Trust me, I had body issues even when I was 105 lbs, but my weight problem has changed from a mental one to an actual physical one.
When I was in my twenties, my fiancé at the time referred to me as a “miniature supermodel”, because I was only 5’2” instead of 5’9”, yet perfectly proportioned. He also happened to control what I wore fairly often. I couldn’t wear short shorts, and I wasn’t allowed to show off my legs in tiny dresses.
Within a year or two of when we broke up, I began to put on weight. There’s a part of me that still feels animosity that I couldn’t “show it off” when I had the chance. The only thing I get to show off these days is my cleavage, because one of the benefits of gaining weight is that I grew two cup sizes.
I have this interesting perspective about my weight gain, because I haven’t had this issue my whole life. Until I turned 30, I was nearly too thin, by no fault of my own; it was just my genetics. I see the girls around me who are like this, and may stay like this, and think about how I was so insensitive to others’ feelings with the way I acted around men and the way I talked about my own body.
For that, I openly apologize.
It’s not fun to be on the other side.
And I know, even as I write this, there is someone else out there possibly reading who is struggling a lot harder than me. I can’t change the way our bodies look, but I can give you the silent nod and the verbal reassurance that even if you aren’t content with your appearance, there are so many people out there who think you are drop-dead gorgeous. And, naturally, you should think so, too, but as is clearly evident by this letter, we can’t always control our emotions or negative thoughts.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a size 0 again, and my choice to work on my weight is solely mine, not to be judged by how anyone else treats their body, but even if I do lose some weight, what I will never lose is the humility I gained in understanding what a huge impact a few innocent words have on those around us.
A girl continually learning compassion
Several months back, I listened to a podcast about creature comforts. You know, the tattered, well-loved scraps of cloth or worn, matted fur of a stuffed animal we’ve adored since our childhood.
I have a few: a white crocheted blanket with pastel-colored trim, a stuffed golden retriever named Mutsy, and a glow pet in the form of a unicorn. The first two I’ve had practically my entire life. There have been a handful of others that have run in and out of circulation over the years, but these are the three items I curl into, wrap myself up in, and nuzzle as I drift off to sleep each night.
I also happen to be 34 years old.
The woman narrating the first segment of the podcast on NPR’s Hidden Brain episode, “Creature Comforts”, battles criticism from her mother about wanting her blankey with her each night, although she is a 40-year-old married woman with a kid.
I had never really thought about it, since I’m not yet forty or married, nor do I have children, but if I’m not willing to part with my creature comforts now, will I ever be? Is it so wrong if I don’t?
As a child, it is societally the norm to have a blankey or favorite stuffed animal that goes everywhere with us. As a teenager, we might get crap from our friends about it, but often, our room still holds pieces of nostalgia from our youth. In college, it might even be considered mildly adorable if your favorite childhood comfort accompanies you to a new environment.
As an adult, well, my past boyfriends have made comments.
My ex fiancé never forced me to leave bedtime for just the two of us, but I would sometimes wake up to the sound and silhouette of my stuffed dog whizzing past my head because he ended up in J’s territory.
Another one of my boyfriends, albeit extremely fond of my adorable nature, would roll his eyes as he tucked me in with my entourage of sleep aids and read me bedtime stories to help me fall asleep.
My current boyfriend has not made any comments thus far, but I do wonder what he really thinks about sharing the bed with me and my motley array of plush and yarn.
The woman narrating the NPR podcast discloses that she happens to be lucky, since her husband finds it endearing that she still sleeps with her blankey. How when she’s not around, he actually will snuggle it because it reminds him of her.
Is there something wrong with holding onto our old blankeys? Why must we wean ourselves off of something that makes some of us so incredibly happy and comforted when we go to bed?
The world is a scary place, and, in my opinion, with the current events and state of affairs with our new presidency, is becoming more frightening and fragile by the minute.
When I am curled under my comforter with the glow of my night-light moon, waxing or waning in the corner (yes, I have a Moon In My Room, advertised for children… I also have Mars), I feel ageless and safe. I am eternally the child that is afraid of things and is assuaged when the pressures of the world don’t exist for a few hours in the dark with my favorite stuffed dog resting under my cheek.
I might also be the only adult, who at a Yankee Gift Swap, was excited to get the gag gift: a glow in the dark, plush unicorn. I actually squealed.
These facts do not make me less of an adult. I am a well-adjusted, secure, and independent woman who happens to love blankets and stuffed animals.
We may change shape and gain responsibilities as we get older, but we still need to feel loved and nurtured. Those things never subside. I can even argue that with the surmounting level of responsibility as an adult and dose of reality comes an even greater need to surround ourselves with things that bring us relief and comfort.
Will my future children someday ask me why I sleep with a stuffed animal just like they do? Sure, maybe. And I’ll tell them because hugging things rocks and it’s never wrong to want to love something.