At least I remembered to shut off your damn phone alarm.
If I heard it’s stupid “presto” chime at 4:30 AM I think I would have crumbled. As it was, I already felt like death: dizzy, scared, flustered, ALONE.
There was such fear in the pit of my stomach.
The dizziness might’ve been attributed to (or completely caused by) the large glasses of wine- your favorite- that I had guzzled; an effort to forget the circumstances.
That night, I had a dream that you’d texted me. I love you.
Then, I loved you.
“Wait, what?” I screamed at my phone. “What are you talking about?” I sobbed. I threw the phone across the room. I woke up with a jolt to the sound of it smashing against the wood floor. Although the screen was cracked, I could still make out our last interaction.
I’m super busy. I love you. I’ll call you after work.
I love you too. Have a good day. Try to take it easy.
If divorce is death by a thousand paper cuts, I felt as though I’d been resurrected, tied down, and sliced across each scar.
I just needed to get through these next few days, weeks, months… It’ll get better with time, I lied to myself.
My mind wandered yet again. Just one week ago, you were laying down beside me. You sleepily asked me to move in closer; to snuggle up. It was so vulnerable and so unlike you- as though you knew.
Instinctually, I checked my phone for a text. I had your phone in my possession, though, so that’s one of the reasons it was not feasible. But I kept on checking. Just in case.
I know the way by rote, the way the road curves over to the right after the yellow sign, the way it contours itself to the woods on the left. I move fluidly with it, pressing the accelerator through the turns and tapping on the brake when I notice the speedometer creeping higher and higher…
I’m caught by surprise, then, when the fog begins slithering its way in. At first I don’t notice; perhaps I am not paying attention as well as I should be. The turns ahead are all at once more difficult to see, and I have trouble making out what’s ahead. I slow the car down as the haziness becomes almost too much to bear.
“What are you doing? You have to move faster if we’re going to get there on time,” I hear from my passenger. He had only been in my life now for about a year, but it felt like a lifetime. As cliché as it was, I knew him better than he knew himself, and he me. We worked.
“It’s just a little hard to see with all this damned fog. It makes me nervous. If you don’t like the way I drive, you should’ve gotten behind the wheel yourself.”
“Ugh,” he rolls his eyes, reaches into the backseat and cracks a beer.
“Hey you can’t drink in here! This is my car. No way! Get rid of it.”
“Relax. There’s no one around. I’ll dump it before we get to the real road.”
Who was this person that I had thought I knew? Right before my eyes, but without my noticing, he had changed. He had become this. And it scared me, so I wanted desperately to slow down, but feared it was too late. I couldn’t see myself hurtling toward a cliff.
On my exposed forearms, I felt the last lick of the warm sun that is still available in November in South Carolina. As we embarked on the long walk down the boardwalk that led to the hard-sand beach, I relished in this time spent with family, closing my eyes and breathing in the air, thick with salt. My brain automatically brought me to teenaged years at this spot: to fudge shops and beach biking and sneaking out at night with my cousin. My biggest worry at that point was how to act once we got to the party.
Amanda and I were a couple of attention-seeking 16 year olds (as all 16 year olds are) trying to seem older and more sophisticated to the 18-year-old, super-mature (*eye roll*) guys that we’d met at the beach earlier that day. To us, they were the picture of cool, and we probably seemed a tad over-excited when they’d asked us to a party that night. In retrospect, our parents probably would have let us go, but we didn’t even ask them- you see, it was all part of the illusion that we were incredibly badass.
Once we walked in the door of this unknown person’s family beach house and saw the rest of the guests draped all over each other in beer-induced familiarity, we both concluded that to fit in properly, we’d have to partake in the underaged ritual of drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time. I’m sure that it wasn’t my first time imbibing, but it might as well have been. Looking at each other and shrugging, we walked into the kitchen. Amanda opened a red cooler that sat on the tile floor and handed us both a bottle.
“Cheers?” she asked more than said.
Looking down, I read the label. Seagrams. Huh. “What’s a wine cooler?” I whispered.
“Not sure. I guess we can try.”
Try we did. Again and again we “tried” bottle after sugary-sweet bottle, until I went into the powder room, and the wallpaper pattern started swirling and dancing. I blinked my eyes, but couldn’t make it stop. When I went out to tell my cousin about the experience, she wasn’t where I had left her. In fact, she didn’t seem to be anywhere, and I noticed that the majority of the party-goers were gone. I asked (or more likely, slurred to) a girl by the door where everyone went. “Oh, they just went down to the beach gazebo. There was a band playing there tonight. We’re gonna go there if you want to join us.” She pointed to the remainder of the teens grabbing the last of the cans of shitty beer and shoving it into their pockets.
“Sure, thanks,” I said in my best impersonation of a nonchalant, normal, sober, 18-year-old.
They walked out the door, laughing hysterically at a joke that I didn’t get. I followed clumsily, confident that they didn’t hear me tripping over my feet and/or didn’t care. As we got closer to the beach, I heard the music from the band. What time was it? We left around 10:30, but how long had we been “partying”?
As I contemplated this, I walked sideways off the boardwalk, directly into the surrounding bushes. I lay there in a thicket, the branches cradling me, looking up at the half-moon. No one of the group that I’d been following seemed to notice my sudden disappearance. I sighed, relieved that I no longer needed to employ any energy. For what seemed like hours (probably more like minutes) I stayed there; after all, it seemed like a nice place to spend the night, Just as I closed my eyes, I heard a faint voice- “Kirsten, Keeee-eeeersten.” Louder and louder she called.
“Amanda, I’m right here,” I called back, kind of disappointed that I’d have to leave my new favorite spot.
Apparently she didn’t hear me, because she continued calling my name. “I’M RIGHT HERE!” I yelled back angrily, for some reason.
“Thank God- I had no idea where you’d gone!” She’d become very motherly at this point.
“You’re the one who left me!”
“I got confused- I thought you had gone with the group, so I followed along.” She pulled me out of the bushes and I struggled to regain me balance. “You’re covered in scratches- and your leg is bleeding! Let’s just get home.”
“Okay. Everything is spinning. I feel kinda—” Those were my last words before I threw up all over my once-cradle. Leaning on my cousin for support, we stumbled drunkenly down the boardwalk in the direction we had come. “Yeah, I think we should go home,” I agreed. “Do you know how to get there?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Somehow, miraculously, we did end up getting our drunk butts home and into our beds without waking any of our parents or siblings. I looked over at the clock at my bedside and concentrated as hard as I could on the spinning digits. 12:00. Badasses indeed.
The moral of the story is clear: Don’t ever drink wine coolers. They make you fall into bushes.
I want to believe in God. I SO want to believe. The thought is comforting; soothing. The logic is: though the decisions I make have their consequences, it is all a part of a greater plan; His plan. And since I’m a (relatively) nice person, everything- in the end- should turn out okay, right? RIGHT???
The image of a giant man with a long, white beard, sitting upon his throne behind the pearly gates in the clouds just doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t seem to force my brain to give credence to this outlook. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong— just not for me. [Post-composition edit: As my plane just hit turbulence, I was praying to EXACTLY that guy. I’m a walking contradiction.]
Comedian Chris D’Elia said, “You can believe what you want to believe, just don’t act like it’s not creepy.” We all have our own thoughts, but I hate when people think that theirs is the only normal one out there. Not true. They’re all pretty unorthodox (no pun intended… fine, a little bit intended). Embrace it, because life is pretty weird (and- let’s face it- creepy, too), and that’s okay.
That’s not to say that I don’t have faith in something greater than myself. It seems rather ridiculous to think that I’m IT; their must be something more. I NEED there to be something more.
Hippie-dippie as it may sound, I truly believe that to get good energy out of the universe, you need to put good into it. Not necessarily through grand gestures, but by doing simple things- smiling at strangers, helping a friend move, truly trusting a person’s word. My daughter likes to leave pennies on the ground for others to find. You don’t need to anonymously donate 7 million dollars to a children’s charity to release good energy (though if you do, it’s not a bad thing).
Often this “positive energy” is perceived as “naivety,” and the person (namely, me) is walked, stomped, and at times even marched upon. Of course I’ve done my share of marching, but I digress.
Why, then, do I choose to raise my children in the church?
This is a question that I’ve battled internally since their birth. Eugene Mirman once said “It’s the specificity of religion that’s a little silly.” Though I don’t have ALL the same beliefs as my fellow Catholics (it’s just TOO specific!), something about the lifestyle just feels right to me. It’s probably due to the fact that my own childhood was spent going to mass each Sunday, saying grace before dinner, and considering the consequences of sin. These traditions, along with the values that can be instilled through Catholicism, are not necessarily a bad thing for my kids.
And, organized religion makes the world seem a bit smaller and a bit safer.
That said, it’s important for them to understand the significance of acceptance. Acceptance for people of ALL religions, cultures, and lifestyles. If you hate someone, like, TRULY hate, it should be because of his sucky personality, not because he’s Jewish or Irish or gay or collects Beanie Babies.
In the end, it’s important to understand that nobody actually knows, and no one WILL know until the time comes.
It’s actually a strange, unifying feeling that- regardless of what we believe- we will all find out the truth within a few minutes of dying. It’ll be the end. Lights out. Or, perhaps, lights on, depending on what you believe.
****This post would not have been possible without listening to the thoughtful musings of my friend Pete Holmes (he doesn’t know that we’re friends yet) and his guests on the podcast “You Made it Weird,” that I highly recommend. Simply click on the link or listen on your favorite podcast app. You’re welcome.
The years after college were my most confident.
I was praised at work. I was enthusiastic about trying new things. At the age of 21, I was confident and blissfully happy.
I felt good enough.
When I turned 24, I took on a new teaching job that was a bit out of my element, so I studied. I studied my ass off, and presented to the class what I had learned. It was not easy (especially being amongst the hormonal teens), but I was given confidence by all the people who surrounded me.
I felt good enough.
Around that time, my boyfriend and I moved in together. I felt like I could be myself: silly, quirky, sarcastic. It was like the ultimate sleep-over with my best friend.
I felt good enough.
When I went to graduate school in the evenings, I raised my hand to participate in discussions. I worked hard to get high marks. My work ethic was good, especially when I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t fit in the attached desks anymore.
I felt good enough.
I had my baby. She had the most perfect ears; I remember staring at the tiny swirl, the bluffs and the miniature valleys that formed an impeccable archetype. She was a good baby, but no matter how many books I poured over, I had no idea what I was doing, and neither did my husband.
I was stay-at-home-mom, wasn’t I supposed to know? Wasn’t that motherly instinct shit supposed to kick in by now?
Her pediatrician assured us that she was thriving: hitting her milestones when she was supposed to, but I still had so many doubts.
I felt just barely good enough.
My new position in life was strange because I hadn’t anticipated it. I wasn’t really sure what to do. Should I vacuum everyday? Make a roast? My mom always worked outside the home, so I didn’t have a model. None of my friends stayed home- they didn’t even have kids yet- so I couldn’t commiserate or ask questions. I was alone.
I strived to feel good enough.
I was blessed with another pregnancy a couple of years later, but without the distraction of work, I could really concentrate on how awful I felt. I was nauseated by every smell, tired in the middle of the day, depressed and more alone-feeling than ever. I withdrew, trying to hide myself behind my belly. I went to doctor’s appointments, my toddler by my side, my husband working extraneous hours to be able to afford another child. Or maybe it was to avoid me. Can’t say I’d blame him.
I didn’t feel good enough.
After my son was born, I felt slightly better, but still something was slightly “off.” I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When the doctors asked me questions, everything seemed jumbled in my head. I couldn’t recall memories correctly. I was frustrated and never felt more dumb. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t walk in a straight line: My body wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. My new baby was difficult. He screamed while my toddler ran in circles around me, holding her hands up to her ears to block out the noise. I had failed her. I was failing him. I was a failure.
The embarrassing things that I file away in my personal shame folder are numerous, and I don’t think I have the courage to share them all, but I will say that I have an extraordinary love for 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines, reading insignificant “articles” (and I use that term loosely) on the internet, and checking the time-suck that is Facebook every 7 seconds.
Another thing that I’m ashamed to admit is that I LOVE being alone. Like, I’m crazy about it. I’m wild for it.
If alone-time and I were bobbing along in the frigid waters after the crash of the Titanic, I’d probably make some room so it could float along beside me on a broken off piece of door. Just sayin’.
One of the main reasons that I like to keep this pleasure of mine a secret are the many judgements– some of them true- that could be thrown my way upon hearing this truth.
“How selfish- you have children after all!” “You’ll come to regret that desire to be alone when you really ARE alone!” “You must take issue with the social norms and customs that should be celebrated, not defied!”
To that I say… well, you got me.
Yes, I am a little selfish. Not always, but I’m a round character, a person who has many aspects of her personality. I am self-centered at times, but I am also warm and giving (or so I’d like to think). I can extend myself to others- especially my kids- because I’ve gotten the chance to be refreshed in my alone times. Think of me as a rechargeable battery.
I am convinced I’ll come to lament about the times I should have cherished in the past. The lack of privacy that comes hand-in-hand with parenting small children, the tiny voices that trail behind you, asking “But, why?” about everything, the enthusiastic morning wake-ups before sunrise. But don’t we always feel a sense of grief about times gone by and pasts that happened far too quickly? Regret is always going to be a definite, even among the happiest of people, so loving my “me time” should come sans guilt.
I’ve found myself with more alone time than ever since my separation, and I think it’s honestly made me a better (and more patient) mom. I went from being “Mommy” all day, every day to having a couple of weekends each month to myself.
I enjoy going to the movies alone; not sharing my popcorn and not compromising on what I’d like to see.
Dining out with only the company of my kindle is a treat, as I can leave whenever the mood strikes me and eat wherever I want.
I take long baths.
I go to cooking class.
I walk around the library.
I attend yoga.
I lay in my bed and watch 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines.
I do whatever I want.
I consider this a secret pleasure, because our society makes it seem as though people who desire to be alone should feel ashamed. It is true, however, that being alone- even lonely- at times allows us to appreciate and grow to love the chaos that comes with being together.
the audience members staring expectantly, nary an eye blinking; the grit on my sandpaper tongue course and abrasive against my soft palate.
My words roll out more and more rapidly, stumbling on top of each other incomprehensibly, punctuated by loud swallows and awkward breathing patterns.
“Just relax and try to envision your audience in their underwear.”
Now I am not only terrified of giving my speech, but confused as to why everyone can just sit there so confidently sans clothing. I mean, aren’t they cold?
I can feel the watery heat trespassing my ocular region at an alarming pace. No!No! No!
I know once the tears push their way to the surface, I’m done. At that point, it will be impossible to communicate words through my blubbering face.
I’ll stop and take a slow deep breath to suppress the emotions that are threatening to steal my voice. I wonder if anybody would notice if I took 5 to 10 minutes to regroup. Maybe I could meditate for a bit.
After I somewhat pull myself together, I begin to focus primarily on the actual morphemes rather than the content, so that I can keep my hyper-sensitivity at bay. Doing so allows me to hear myself more clearly. Ugh, you couldn’t PAY me enough to sit through this drivel.
Yet no one has left yet, quietly excusing themselves, mouthing the word “restroom,” then tiptoeing out, never to return to this epic shitshow. So, there IS that.
I need to reel my audience in with a little humor. I’ll tell a joke.
Crap, I don’t know a joke, uh…
“Kirsten who is currently paralyzed with fear at the thought of continuing to speak.”
Well, that didn’t go as I’d have liked.
I become more acutely aware of my hands. What do I USUALLY do with my fingers? Balling my fists seems too aggressive, but letting them hang limp like boiled fettuccine noodles only emphasizes my cowardice. I decide to let them fall “naturally” next to my body, but notice that in obsessing about my extremities, I’ve completely stopped talking. How long had it been?
I bring the paper up close to my face so my voice is muffled and difficult to make out, but at least I’m shielded from THEM. Next time, maybe I can just ask someone to speak on my behalf.
My mood is determined approximately 93% by what I’m wearing at a given time.
It started from infancy, with comfort being a priority. Think: soft cotton onesies and dry diapers. As I grew into toddlerhood and through my early years of schooling, comfort flew by the wayside in favor of glamor (at least what was considered “glamor” in the 80s).
When I was in 4th grade, my parents received a call from the teacher asking if they were aware that I was sporting high heels at school each day.
Apparently my mother’s adult-sized shoes on my kid-sized feet clued Mrs. Smith in that these were not my pre-arranged footwear.
This was not the first contact from school regarding my fashion choices, however. A few years prior, the teacher had asked during a conference if any changes were going on at home. After mulling this over for a while, my mom couldn’t come up with anything:
“I-I was on a business trip last week. Why? Is everything okay?”
“Aha! That must’ve been it, then!” the teacher proclaimed. “Academically she’s been fine, but wore velvet and taffeta dresses with dirty running sneakers to class all week. It was just rather strange.”
Apparently my dad was indifferent about the “homeless-chic” ensemble choices that his child determined were appropriate for kindergarten.
I was lucky enough to have a mom who didn’t fret over the details of my get-ups, unless it compromised the integrity of my family. For the most part 90s-fashion was pretty low-key, anyway, though I sometimes looked with envy on the kids who identified themselves as goth.
Long black dresses and capes, pale faces with dark lipstick;
I wanted to try it, but didn’t think I’d be able to pull off the “too-cool” countenance that seemed so effortless to that crowd.
So I decidedly blended in through high school and college. I kept up with the trends (platform foam flip-flops, tank tops atop other tank tops, risqué mini-skirts, wool sweaters from J. Crew), but didn’t really try anything new during that period of my life.
Upon leaving school and joining the work force, I needed to maintain a sense of decorum, so I dressed preppy and older. My glasses and “teacher-bun” (complete with writing implement jabbed through the center) rounded out the “she’s such a professional” look.
As long as my job was as a professional hot mess, I realize when I look back.
The only thing that set my wardrobe apart were my shoes:
My collection was vast; enviable. Every color and shade was represented, from fuchsia to forest green. But what they all had in common? Height. Towering peep-toes and the tallest wedges took me from pocket-sized to altitudinous amazonian. I was able to walk long stretches, run a marathon if needed, and- most importantly- stand sternly eye-to-eye with my eighth-grade students who had hit growth spurts over the winter break.
I stood straighter and more confidently in my heels, but the moment I switched to flat shoes, I rolled my shoulders forward and waddled like a mallard. Every footfall brought a sense of woe. It’s fascinating how an item of clothing can influence temperament to such a degree.
When I was more than 7 months pregnant with my daughter, I recall slipping my feet into a pair of 4-inch pumps before a night out. I specifically remember that feeling of pleasure I had, to be able to put something on my body that actually fit- that felt GOOD even- was so satisfying. Though it was only 8 years ago, it feels like a lifetime has passed.
I actually can’t pinpoint when I began wobbling.
Looking back I can remember starting to lack confidence in my ability to get up from the table in a restaurant and walk to the restroom. I felt like all eyes were on me: had I drank too much wine with dinner? I could never remember.
During my second pregnancy, I kept falling, especially as my belly grew bigger and threw off my center of gravity. I took precautions to help me balance for the little guy’s safety. After all, I was supposed to be his protector, and it was only a few months that remained. I sat for longer stretches, I gave up exercise, and I stopped wearing heels. I remember that time of my life as being very dark.
After he was born, I was (perhaps a bit selfishly) excited to get my body back.
Falling was more infrequent, but my balance issues were still there. All of a sudden putting on taller shoes was difficult- not because they hurt or didn’t fit, but I genuinely began tottering and weaving awkwardly, as though I was heavily intoxicated. It was a slow progression, but eventually I had to phase out my beautiful high-heeled shoes.
I got rid of most, because I couldn’t bear to let my beautiful shoes see me like this, a shell of my former self, but I presently have a couple of pairs that I’ll slip on- if just for a moment- and let them electrify my soul and uplift my mood.
Then I take them off my feet carefully in favor of some sensible tangerine-and-aqua-floral-patterned flats.
Fear, that coward; that bully who frightens his victim into resignation.
Defeat this oppressor with action, simple as it may be, for it is in the stagnation that he performs best.
I haven’t sat down to write like I used to. This presents a considerable problem (not to the outside world necessarily) but to my own psyche that thrives on the outpouring of my soul onto paper.
There are a slew of reasons why: excuses, some of the legitimate, some of them not so much. Time being one of these justifications: who has the time? There just isn’t enough time. Maybe tomorrow, next week, when things slow down, someday…
It becomes scary when “too much” time has gone by. All of a sudden, the blank page faces me and I find myself in the grungy hands of fear. I need to make a change.
In my spiritual quest as of late, I’ve been reflecting on time, specifically “time dysfunction” as Deepak Chopra describes it. I consider what is most important to me, in the now:
Spending meaningful moments with my family
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
I ask: How can I arrange my now, my present life, to care for and nourish those things that are most important?
I think of those things that I’m already doing, and I give myself a gold star before moving on. Then, I begin to-politely- ask fear to leave, as he is no longer welcome. My behaviors require constant reinforcement: You’re doing great, Kirsten! Keep up the good work! This is for yourself, and you’ll be a better person for it. Promise. Swear. Girl Scout’s honor.
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
So I will not be, as Mr. Emerson says, a timid adventurer, and write I shall.
The time is now!
Drinking has become a chore. Finding the alcohol in every situation…
There’s no drink service on this plane/in this comedy club/at this tapas joint? How can I possibly deal? Will I be able to sneak a bottle into that festival/concert/cruise ship? How will I function without alcohol at this holiday party/high school reunion/completely random social gathering?
Perhaps there is a comfort in knowing exactly where to go (the bar!) and what to do (get a drink!) when entering a potentially awkward situation, but hopefully this is something that a mature (kinda) adult can deal with.
I’m not a person who has some amazing blackout-rode-a-llama-home-from-the-bar-and-there-are-3-people-who-I-don’t-know-sleeping-on-my-kitchen-floor-and-how-did-I-end-up-with-MORE-money-in-my-wallet-than-I-started-out-with-? story, but I’ve definitely had periods in my life during which I imbibed a little more than I should: when I was dealing with my diagnosis, coming to terms with my separation, that time(s) that my kids just would NOT STOP (okay, so that’s daily).
And my interest has just not been where it used to be. I truly feel that sometimes I’ll have a cocktail out of habit, not enjoyment.
Of course it’s better for your body to stay away from alcohol. As per WebMD, drinking, even moderately, boosts one’s risk for several types of cancer (but, let’s be honest, that site is infamous for diagnosing everyone, even someone with the slightest swollen glands, with the big C).
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism discusses the horrific effects of drinking on most of one’s anatomy, including the brain (shocker: it’s harder to think clearly when you’ve been consuming alcohol), the heart (stroke, among other issues), the liver (I think we were all aware of this one), the pancreas (dangerous inflammation and swelling), and the immune system (maybe get 2 flu shots this year?).
Further research discusses how the chronic abuse of ethanol (alcohol) can have permanent effects of brain function.
And of course my health in particular, which has taken a turn for the worse as of late. I know drinking alcohol is disproved of among the medical community in regards to autoimmune diseases, so this is precisely directed toward my goal of taking MS down!
I’m not talking about the dude that has a couple of beers on Saturday night with his buddies then calls it a night, and I’m not implicating that woman who meets her co-worker for a drink after work.
I’m also not talking about that guy who needs a couple of shots of vodka in his orange juice in order to function for the rest of the day or the lady who carries around a flask of rum to work to pour into her coffee. The chemically-dependent individual is on a whole different level.
I’m talking about ME. I am not a binge drinker. I wouldn’t even consider myself an abuser, but I do drink.
I’m just a girl, standing in front of a bordeaux, saying “No thank you.”
I just don’t need another “thing.”
I remember quitting smoking. How it seemed completely impossible in the beginning. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around the concept of going to a bar and NOT smoking.
Being in my car and NOT smoking.
Eating a meal and afterward NOT smoking.
Taking a smoke-break at work and NOT smoking.
Now, however, I feel so completely free of the burden of cigarettes: of buying them, of having them in supply at all times, of smelling like them (in retrospect, eww!), and of having to go outside in the middle of January to have one.
Will I feel more unburdened without having alcohol in my life?