On the Guest List

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.

Snow Day

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.

When Dreams Shift into Nightmares

I remember thinking, “There’s no way out of this one.” And then I woke up.

My dreams never make a lot of sense.

When I go to explain them to someone, I often can’t describe them linearly, and the details become muddled. However, when I am in my dream, they seem clear to me, and last night was a series of nightmares that left me feeling very emotionally uncomfortable.

Both were apocalyptic in nature, but at the end of the first one, a single, white horse was stampeding towards me. I stood at the end of a very high cliff with a breath-taking view, knowing I needed to get out of the way, so I hung over the side of the cliff.

It went successfully, but then for some reason, after pulling myself up, I had that urge to just jump. I knew I would be killing myself if I did (and I was not aware it was a dream at the time; it felt very real), but I chose to jump.

I remember closing my eyes and soaring downward very fast, my back facing the ground. I felt scared, but I came to complete peace with what I had chosen and knew what might come at the end would not necessarily be painless, because how can you know unless you’ve done it? I talked to God, I remembered people I loved, and I pressed my eyes shut very tightly, so I wouldn’t know when I would hit the bottom.

I never hit the bottom.

That dream scared the shit out of me. Covered in sweat, I lay in bed for a few minutes completely freaked out that I made that decision, dream or not, and then had to coax myself back to sleep with meditation.

A little later, seemingly half-awake, I felt Bryan next to me and said, “hey.” He woke up and acknowledged me, and I asked him, “How did you get here? I was hoping you would be here,” because he was not at my place last night. I think I needed the comfort from the previous dream.

I remember being completely amazed at this magic trick he performed (appearing in my apartment at 4am), and I made him come with me to the mirror, so I could turn on the light and prove he was there. He was.

Of course, I was dreaming, but it was one of those dreams where the lines between reality and fantasy are extremely blurred. I was looking at my own hands. I was sitting up in my own bed. I remember thinking about how this time it wasn’t a dream.

I walked out into the living room and other people started to enter my apartment. Friends needing refuge. There was some catastrophe that took place in London, and it was beginning to take effect globally. I scrambled to get cots and blankets for people, and Bryan was helping me.

At one point, I tried to use the telephone to contact work (because of the emergency) but the lines were dead…

And yet again, I awoke, and realized no apocalypse was taking place outside my window. No immediate need for fight or flight. No boyfriend there comforting me after my bad dream.

A night of dreams such as those feels less like rest and more like a long trek, and I am worse for wear this morning. The lingering emotions will wind down as daylight continues, and I will forget the nightmarish ghouls that snuck into my bedroom and made me think the unimaginable.

Little Earthquakes

I can’t believe I allowed myself to be in that situation again.

Everything was normal. Fine. Maybe a little too fine. When I first arrived, he was overly eager to give me a hug. Exes aren’t typically overly eager to do anything unless it involves inflating specifics of their life to make things seem better than they really are.

I was standing outside when I heard him say it. She was here.

Immediately, my gut wrenched. My body went into a post-traumatic shock, where all I wanted was to flee. To smoke a cigarette and flee. Against my body’s persistent urges to get in my car and get the hell out, I stayed, reassured by others that they would be there to support me.

Jello shots and whiskey helped ease the anxiety for a time. But only for a time.

“I don’t hate her or anything,” I said to my ex, standing in the driveway and pulling drags of his cigarette without his consent. “I just have zero desire to ever be around her again.”

“The fact that no one thought to tell me she’d be here is preposterous and really inconsiderate!” I added.

The avoider of all conflict reassured me that he would not ignore me or act differently. To please just suck it up for one day.

Let me explain what it feels like to suck up PTSD:

It feels like you constantly want to throw up. Your body is uncomfortable. There’s a littering of egg-shells in every direction you walk. Your mouth is duct taped. Censored. Your actions are bound. Censored. Your thoughts are rampant and sweating. Outwardly, you’re silent. Outwardly, you act calm, collected, and cool, because you don’t want to ruin anyone else’s time, you don’t want to cause a scene, and you can’t let people know how much you are hurting because they won’t take you seriously.

They didn’t feel the shockwave blow a hole through my body when I walked in on him and her kissing on the same day as one of my good friend’s funeral.

No. They could never know how low I felt as I scraped the snow off my windshield at two in the morning, wailing at the top of my lungs, after having an argument with a belligerently drunk dolt of an ex-boyfriend who would not assume responsibility for his actions, which ended in a fervent slap across the face from me.

Only my good friend, who heard me crying and came out to offer support, could know the level of messed up I was. I was actually traumatized. My system had had too much at this point. What with the passing and grieving of a friend, the assumed trust I shared with a man, and the broken friendship that stabbed deeper than any of the rest, I was a total heap of distraught. She had repeatedly told me I was way too good for him only so she could climb into his drunken arms, while I was asleep upstairs, because I was invited to stay at the house so I wouldn’t have to grieve alone after Isaac’s passing.

When I arrived home around 4am, I sat on my bed and drank whiskey straight from the bottle. I had no cigarettes and would have to wait until a gas station opened. I was wide-awake and completely rocked from what my heart, eyes, and body had just gone through.

I would never be quite the same again.

And then, they all just expected me to be okay with this? I know it’s been over a year, but would you bring an ex-infantry soldier to a movie about war?

I don’t really remember leaving, except to ask my ex for a cigarette.

I woke up at 4am with several texts asking if I was okay. I felt anxious, so I took half a klonopin and went back to sleep.

Today is Sunday, and the dust has settled. For now.

Coming Home

I removed my shoes and placed them slowly in the cubby below the fabric-covered bench outside, as I reached the top of the stairs. Apprehensively, I pushed open the door to find a common room with two Latina ladies. A small-framed, curly-haired woman walked in from another room and greeted me through a smile.

I told her it was my first time.

I just attended my first yoga class in approximately two years. And if you really want to count, I haven’t had a steady practice of any kind in over four.

I have been making excuses for a long time for why I wasn’t ready to go back to yoga, and part of it, honestly, was because I really wasn’t ready. My body didn’t crave it; my heart wasn’t in it; anxiety and depression had won the war for years over what to do with my body, and it mostly consisted of alcohol, stress, partying, and avoiding exercise.

I filled out the introductory waiver at the front desk and it asked me what my level of experience with yoga was? I wasn’t a beginner. I have years of experience, including teacher training and advance level classes and workshops under my belt, so “some experience” didn’t seem to fit, either. I checked off “advanced” but then felt it necessary to scribble in “but I haven’t been to a class in years!”

It’s like the shame of my absence of a practice or my billowing breasts that don’t fit sports bras or the stereotype of a well-toned yogi were making me question my validity to be there.

Once in the practice space, I unfurled my mat—my beautiful, deep brown mat—which had been sitting in the back of my trunk amongst clothes donations and bags of bottle returns for years. I think it breathed as much a sigh of relaxation as I felt walking bare-footed to grab my favorite props: a bolster and a blanket.

At the start of a typical class, the teacher usually prompts you to set an intention. Mine was simple:

Enjoy the class.

We began with some qi gong practices with which I was familiar to warm up the body. I remember the teacher’s voice saying, “Don’t even think about the motions; let it be part of who you are,” as my bare arms fluidly moved through the air in a wide arc in unison above my head and then back down. It felt like gossamer threads of energy were trickling across my skin.

It felt like the movement was part of me.

Through each pose, I instinctually remembered how to adjust my body for perfect alignment and total engagement of the muscles. It was like I have practiced every day for the last four years without a single break. The movements are ingrained in my muscle memory. Yes, I am weaker, and my endurance is certainly lacking, but I had a small smile that continually crept onto my lips throughout the entire class because I felt like I was home again.

The teacher encouragingly told me my poses were beautiful and so open, and I could only think about how it was because I am an out-of-shape, albeit, advanced student in a “Gentle Yoga” class full of mostly beginners who have never been the flexible types nor have they studied alignment the way I had. But if I were in a more advanced class, I would be the one taking breaks, slowing down, breathing heavily, and feeling my limbs shake. I’m not about to get cocky about this now.

Towards the end of class, while I rested my forehead on the floor in front of me during pigeon pose, I thought about how I was so thoroughly enjoying class, I couldn’t wait to come back in two days.

During savasana, where you lie on your back for total relaxation at the end of practice, I was trying to keep my mind steady. It wasn’t. But, it was happy. Elated, even.

The teacher read a short poem titled something like, “Let It Go”, and the words of it really spoke to me in that moment. Let go of your preconceived notions of how you thought things were going to be. Let it go. This is what it is.

A few tears of joy actually well-up in my eyes before we sat up to say Namasté.

I was anxious going to a class in a new building where I didn’t have my posse of yoga friends I used to see each week. I was worried about how I looked in yoga pants, or if I was going to be too ill-equipped to do the class. I was feeling like a beginner.

Those were my preconceived notions walking into class. Just like each day I wake up and think about how things were so different a year ago with the man I adore, or how my body looked when I was twenty-six. Humans tend to fixate.

Being in that spring-toned room, as soon as my two feet were planted hip-width apart and pointing forward, I felt like I was suddenly in an old life again. I had rekindled my bond with my body and the familiarity of one of the greatest loves of my life: yoga.

I was not a beginner at all. I was reincarnated but left with the old sensations of what I used to feel like before I let my life fall apart.

I walked out of my first successful yoga class in two years knowing that my intention had been fulfilled. Not only did I enjoy my practice, I smiled the entire drive home.