All I Need

Pretending there are any ideas other than this one, any places beyond where we find ourselves, now, trading traumas and swapping family war stories in the dark, under the artificial moon streaming in through the window, flies buzzing around it as it buzzes back at them, glowing orange, now red, now white hot, and we are all of us children stumbling around and searching for reason in all this fallow grace, this sickly daze that we’ve created for ourselves, this human sadness, a self-created void that’s as warm as a security blanket and just as well-worn, eating up the land, and I tell you about when I was small, so small I couldn’t talk but could watch, could see these things as they happened in my home, these horrible moments that shaped me into the person I am now, heal(ing)(ed) from these wounds, recounting them to put them in a glass box where they can be regarded like a plague contained, quarantined from its host once and for all, and I watch the way the light dances on your face as you lay down color on paper, something on in the background, but fuzzy around the edges, like a dream, and I’m similarly drifting in and out of sleep, with that nonsense thought process that comes along with it, saying things I can’t remember later but which I’ve needed to say, not to anyone but just in general, needed to speak these stories out loud so they couldn’t hold me hostage any longer, that’s what trauma is, a hostage-taker, laying claim to your body, your mind, your soul, your sanity, until it’s not anymore, until one day when you realize that you can function again, have functioned for some time now, and just realizing this is terrifying, because you don’t want to jinx it, don’t want to lose all the progress you’ve made, don’t ever ever ever want to be broken in that way ever again, and your breath hitches in your chest, vision narrows, it gets harder to breathe, and you have to go to the bathroom to catch your breath, and dry your eyes, and remind yourself, again, as many times as it takes, that you are okay, that you have been okay, and you will continue to be okay, and maybe this isn’t an exhaustive catalogue of post-trauma feelings, maybe it can’t cover it all, but it covers mine, even as I stand years removed from the trauma, years removed even from the most dangerous of episodes after the fact, as I enjoy peace in my time as they’d call it, writing and working and living and enjoying, I can see that this little parasite might always be there, might always squeal its insistence, but it’s a hollow cry, a desperation that goes unheeded, and I walk on into the night with nothing more than the stars and the moon to light the way, here in these hills, and that is, now, more than enough.

That is all I need.

Patience

As I write this, I’m listening to Tame Impala’s latest song, “Patience” on repeat. It’s the first single from an upcoming album that will break a four-year dry spell since their last one: Currents. You can listen to that song while you read this, if you want. “Patience,” I mean. Might help set the tone. Couldn’t hurt, at least.

I discovered Tame Impala during a Dark Night of the Soul of sorts, although of course I didn’t know it at the time. Denial works wonders, and we can never fully grasp the heavy shit we’re going through until we’re not going through it anymore. For me, it was being in a toxic relationship–one I’d sunken nearly a decade of my life into–with no way out in sight, and working at a job that was slowly chipping away at who I thought I was, who I thought I’d be. That and the onset of mental illness I’d been outrunning since my teens by engaging in compulsive, self-destructive behavior.

Short laps on foot around my work’s office building, at the time, maybe playing Tame Impala out of tinny phone speakers, listening to those songs of regret and loss (but hope) on repeat, alternating between that and placing calls to people I hadn’t spoken with in years, old friends I’d broken away from, trying to cling then to something familiar in the weight of all that Hurt.

Short laps growing longer, even during Chicago winters, bundling up and trudging through snow in boots, self-commentary becoming as biting as the wind, tears to clot my eyes in the cold and threatening to freeze, and having nowhere to go but going there with purpose anyway.

I fell, and when I did, I fell hard. In and out of the psych ward. Bandaged arms. Prescribed pills only taken at certain times for certain purposes. Relinquishing my dignity to get help, or so I thought, or so it felt. But going with it. Moving forward. Every day. Living life in stages and exercising (exorcising) patience.

Listening to those same Currents songs on repeat, writing out my story in fictionalized words that were basically the truth but which had been changed just enough to make me comfortable enough to share them.

But I don’t want to mask my words anymore.

So this song. It pops up in my YouTube notifications as I wake up to go to work, at a new job, in another state, a job I actually love. As I wake up next to someone who treats me right: an effortless love. As I have tickets sitting in my inbox to see Tame Impala in Asheville, in a couple months, for the first time.

It can’t be helped that I smile. All of this, all of this growth and change and experience. At the time, it felt like it took everything from me.

And yet all it really took was patience.

Something New

Waking up before my alarm in after-season cold–in a melatonin haze meant to replace the lithium days. Can’t eat much in the mornings anymore. Is that just part of getting older, or is something else at play?

Cat’s got to eat, so I might as well wake up and open a can for him. I still have to chastise him for scarfing his food down too fast, warn him that he’s going to choke until he finally listens, stops eating, and starts licking his chops instead. Same routine every morning just about, and the way that we’ve bypassed trying to cross the language barrier–now I just grunt at him and he murrs back.

I cut my hair the other day, and in doing so found a gray patch I’d never noticed before. A memory: The first gray hair I ever plucked from my head, and how I pressed it into one of my old journals at the time. I don’t know where that journal ended up. I probably lost it in a move.

Aches and pains last for days at a time now, and there are muscle striations there that I’d never seen before. There’s also this great patience, this abiding calm that’s as foreign as it is welcome, a non-Pollyanna attitude that reminds me that things will be okay, that I can and will get through anything.

I treasure simple things like walking to work in the mornings as the sun is just starting to rise, a time when people honk less and drive slower, their consciousnesses in a reboot state.

Waking up early has never been difficult for me. Eighth grade days of waking up at 5:30 in the morning to catch an episode of Ed, Edd, n Eddy that I’d already seen ten times before. Now it’s getting up before dawn to sit in a quiet room alone, to write stories like these, and to hear only the sound of my cat purring on my lap before I leave, the birds as they wake up outside.

Coming home is choosing focal lengths on the walk back, whether mottled sky or shaking branches or the inside of my skull and its constant turnings.

I’m trying to eat healthier now. I’m getting good sleep. I take time to meditate, or at least time to breathe. I want to be here a while. And that’s something new. So I guess that’s progress.

Don’t Forget the Kitty Litter

The day I saw my mom again, it was cloudy, and gray, and cold, and I got off the bus about a mile early to pick up kitty litter. I hadn’t planned the stop, wasn’t even sure I needed to, but I did it anyway. Maybe a part of me knew what would happen.

Lugging the 20 lb. box home wasn’t practical, but I was stubborn. On the way back, there was a rehab facility. Physical rehab, not drug. I always had to make the distinction later, when explaining to others where my mom was living. The thing was, at base, my mom was homeless. Sure, she was staying at this rehab facility and getting just enough surgeries to prolong her stay and keep herself off the street, but she was technically homeless. I don’t know, though. Saying that implies that she had a home to begin with. She had houses, apartments, and duplexes, but no home. I guess I never had one either.

I definitely knew that she was staying there, but the part of me that knew that wasn’t conscious at the time. I was just lugging the kitty litter home, already breaking a sweat even in the chilly November air. By the time I got to the rehab facility, I was swimming in my thoughts.

I saw her standing there, smoking a cig outside the place, talking with a fellow resident. She was about a block away and hadn’t seen me. She hadn’t seen me in years.

I actually froze. I remember that. I stood there, totally still, kitty litter in hand, and had no idea what I was going to do. I looked across the street, considered jaywalking and moving briskly past, hiding my face until I was out of view. I thought of turning back, no destination planned. I thought of doing many things, but what I actually did was walk right up to her. What I actually did was greet her, and set the kitty litter down, and tell her that we needed to talk.

She didn’t know what to do.

The person she was talking to gave me a knowing look and walked away, cigarette cherry glowing in the wind. And there was my mom standing in front of me. Her face was bloated, scarred, and worn from all that the elements had done to her, all of the rage that her body had inflicted. Her eyes were hazy skies threatening rain, foggy like antique marbles. Her mouth was a straight line.

Historically, her thing was to initiate a hug in the hopes that it would make me forget about how she’d treated me. But she didn’t do that this time. What she did was stand there with her arms at her sides, awkward and tense. She was never contemplative, not one to ever stay silent, but no words would come to her. She’d look like she was on the verge of saying something, but then she’d falter.

Looking at her there, standing in her tattered shawl draped over hunched shoulders, face wrecked and body worn out, all of my anger went away. It wasn’t replaced by love, but by a mournfulness. It was like I was looking at a dead person who hadn’t been put in the ground yet.

I hadn’t seen her in years.

It looked like she’d only anticipated being outside for a quick smoke, her shawl insufficient against the cold Chicago air. Or maybe that’s all she had. I remembered hearing that she’d had all her things stolen from her one night while she slept at a homeless shelter in the city. And there I was, standing in my nice jacket, wearing my nice jeans and nice shoes. Everything was nice.

We talked for hours. I led the conversation at first, updating her on everything that was going on in my life. For a time, we were able to set aside the past, all those hurled insults and slammed doors and broken homes. We were old friends maybe, catching up over a cup of coffee.

She told me all about how she’d regularly walk over to the Vineyard Church in Evanston, detail the services and the people and the conversations. We were just C&E parishioners growing up: Christmas and Easter. But now she was going to church once a week, if not more. I could tell she needed it, and that was fine.

I remember feeling the heat escape my body, noticing the cold as it seeped into my bones. Me, with my nice jacket, half-frozen. But it didn’t seem to bother her. I figured all those months of homelessness probably got her used to it.

We both knew when it was time to go. I’d realize when I got home, after I fought past the preliminary tears, then the cries, then the sobs on my walk back that we’d been talking for four hours. But I wouldn’t know then. All I knew was that I had to hug her, and to hug her for real. Like it mattered, because it did. And when I turned to go, she called out to me in a worried voice I’d never quite heard before:

“Don’t forget the kitty litter.”