How will I be remembered when I die?

In the car on my way home from New Hampshire tonight, I finally had a chance to listen to the first pre-released three songs from Ruston Kelly’s new album (releasing later this month), “Shape and Destroy”. The second song hit me right in the gut. It was the first song that he played live at his first appearance at The Ryman at the beginning of March 2020 when you could still go hear live music with a room packed with people. It’s a song called “Brave”. (*His Ryman performance video is at the end of the post)

His songwriting goes right to my heart. I feel his lyrics on a very personal level. I feel like we have shared the same depth and breadth of sadness. When he sings, I can feel in my heart, the pain in his voice. These are HIS songs, about HIS life, HIS heartbreak, HIS drug addiction and now (sadly and as of just a few days ago) HIS divorce from singer Kacey Musgraves. Minus the addiction piece (though addiction arguably comes in so many forms and is not necessarily substance abuse), my pal Ruston and I have seen some of the same shit. The kind of shit that brings you to your knees. We have felt that same kind of decimating pain. The kind of pain that wraps its hands around your neck and makes you wish, no, PRAY that maybe you’ll just wake up dead in the morning and be done with this whole brutal thing that life can be. The kind of pain that walks you to the edge of that big black hole that some people jump in and never return from, and begs you to fall in, all the while listing all of the reasons that you’re not good enough and reading off every mistake that you have made from the day that you were born. Thankfully, we’ve just stood at the edge of that black hole and either walked away on our own accord or followed someone that loved us, away from the precipice.

Pain can be a gift. I know, sounds weird. It’s not the kind of gift that you wish for your family and friends to have. Not the kind of gift that you make for someone else. Pain can be a gift to you. It sucks ass while you’re RECEIVING this gift, but once you have it, it’s probably the best thing you’ve ever received. Because once you have real pain on your emotional coffee table, you are never able to walk through the world in the same way. You are never able to look away from that pain when you recognize it in someone else. When you see that same kind of pain in another person, you just want to go to them and hold them and say “me too”. You want to do whatever you can to help that person and you want to take their hand and show them the way-the way away from the edge of that black hole. Pain makes you a better person, if you face it head on, manage to stay in the game and stumble through the work you have to do to turn into your gift. Pain, if worked through, tethers you to the rest of the world and makes you a vessel of healing to everyone you meet.

A trip to the edge and back also gives you insight on the amount of pain that people are in when they do NOT walk back from the edge. To be that hopeless to that degree and to be in that amount of agony is suddenly imaginable. I don’t suggest jumping in the hole, but I understand it.

So, when I heard Ruston’s line in the first verse, “Who am I and how will I be remembered when I die?” I thought about how I want to be remembered when I go. Most obituaries and eulogies highlight someone’s achievements, successes and the story of how they attained their dreams. They play the highlight reel. I guess I want some of that. But please, when I leave this earth, don’t you dare write or speak one single word about my life if you are not going to mention pain. If you do not intend to mention the darkest moments of my life, then do not utter a syllable about the best of moments. They go hand in hand. My life loses so much meaning if you don’t speak of the pain that shaped me a better person. My purpose here loses it’s significance when you paint my life as sunshine and unicorns so don’t you dare minimize or wipe away my pain. Make my pain a gift to other people. Let them know I struggled. Let them know that I suffered in silence for a long time. Let people know that there were times in my life when I didn’t want to be here on earth anymore. And let them know that I fought back from the edge. Let them know that I was propped up by the people that loved me, even when I had shut them out. Let people know that I stood on the edge of the black hole and that I lived to tell about it. I took pain and turned it into a beautiful golden cup that I offered up to anyone who is thirsty and weak from their journey to, or toward, the edge. Pain shaped my life in such a way that it would be a shame to bring it to the grave with me and it’s a gift that I want to share, even on my way out.

**If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255**

A Year or More

Didn’t expect to have a reaction to an article in today’s New York Times. An article in which they asked 511 epidemiologists when they expect they would feel comfortable doing a variety of things, essentially when they thought life would return to “normal”. Doctor’s office visits and getting a haircut fell into the “this summer” range. Later in the year (3-12 months), most of them felt like they would send kids to school, eat at a dine-in restaurant and work in a shared office. Now at this point in the article, I was thinking that they would probably not even mention dating and that it would fall under “attend a small dinner party” or “hike or picnic outdoors with friends”. But under the “maybe a year or more” section it appeared as “go out with someone you don’t know well”. I was initially relieved. PHEW. I wouldn’t need to worry about going through that exhausting, frustrating, most-often fruitless, endeavor. But I kicked the article and those numbers around in my head all afternoon and by evening it hit me as a great wave of sadness. I haven’t been kissed since November. NOVEMBER. I should maybe not kiss again till next summer?? And to make matters worse, the same number of epidemiologists gave the same for “hugging when you greet a friend”! Now I never planned on not being kissed for 6 months (at this point in my life it hasn’t been high on the priority list. Besides, I’ve had more than my fair share of kisses over the course of my life) but I sure as hell never planned on not being hugged OR kissed for another year or more. What if most people agree with this approach? I should probably agree with this approach. Tonight, the thought of no intimate contact with anyone for a year or more really stings. It’s one thing to leave it up to fate, but to put a big, red X over it for the next year or more is something else entirely.

I rarely see my family except for holidays. We’re not close, we don’t share things or shoot the shit or do any of the things that friends do. We’re just bound in that way that family binds people-can’t change it, can’t escape it. When I’m having a bad day, a tough time, a rough patch, a fucking terrible time, my family is never who I turn to. And likewise for them. If someone is having a shitty time in their life then I usually hear about it from someone else. That’s just our way (cozy, eh?). Hugs are perfunctory and as ritual as having my Dad’s famous shrimp on Christmas Eve. Once a year.

I don’t have friends that I hang out with really. My closest friends are in Vermont and I didn’t get to see them that often, even before the pandemic. My closest MA friend isn’t really into that, my coworkers are my friends here. Most of us didn’t hug a ton, mostly around the time when there was an active shooter outside the hospital. We all started hanging out a little bit before COVID arrived but now we’re scattered to the wind, haven’t seen each other in months for the most part and it’s looking like we won’t all be back in the office together on a regular basis for….well…who knows. (We work in a hospital-with epidemiologists in it, obviously, so whenever they say we can.

So, you see, dating has been an adult-hug life line for me. I’ve never had a date that was SO bad that we didn’t hug goodbye (or at least none come to mind as I sit here thinking about it). And date hugs are nice because I never have to tell them that I’m sad or that I’m lonely or that I’m scared about things or that I’m worried that I’ll never find anyone that I want to hug me for the rest of my life. Date hugs are free of the weight of all of my past mistakes and wrong doings. They’re free of slights, old arguments and emotional baggage.

I hate dating with the heat of a thousand, lonely, suns sometimes. But I sure do miss the hugs.

Better Than You

He’s kind and strong and smart. He is a very hard worker and he has a gentle, calming way about him. He’s not pretentious, though he is unmistakably professional. He’s at ease with himself and others. I want to talk about everything with him and get to know him better. I want to sit down over drinks, both of us in jeans and sweatshirts and know who his best friend is, what his relationship with his parents and siblings is like, what kind of ice cream he likes, what his favorite pet has been, who has been the love of his life, what his dream car is and when he was the most afraid. Those and a million other things. He’s tall, with broad shoulders, an athletic build, a beautiful smile and has soulful eyes that I am certain can see right through my cool facade. He makes my heart jump and puts it at ease, all at the same time. He is the better parts of you. And when I look at him, I can’t help but to feel pangs of sadness BECAUSE of that. But, he will never put his arms around me and he will never kiss me. He will never make me feel like I am safe-like I can rest and not worry for a while. He will never make me promises, only to lie in the end. He will never, ever break my heart. And for all of those reasons, he is better than ANY part of you.

Memory #23857439

lake

It’s early September, just weeks after you asked me what my schedule was while we were standing in the parking lot across from Hornets Nest, next to the Amtrak station.  Just weeks after we began the charade-our secret life. We had spent the warm Saturday afternoon at a popular, outdoor bar in Plattsburgh, NY.  It looked classier than it was, but it was a fun spot with a good combination of locals, seasonal residents and boaters from Vermont or Canada that would dock at the marina.  There was music, the lake, good drinks and lots of strangers for us to talk with.  Strangers, oblivious to who you were, who I was and the secret that had us getting drinks clear across the lake from where we lived.  (I always marveled at how you so casually deflected questions or answered them so generically.  I almost always let you lead with an answer, before chiming in myself with whatever kind of answer would echo yours.  I wonder if people ever noticed how I would look at you for a reaction before I spoke about us.  I must’ve looked like a little kid, looking to their parent to see if they give a proper response.  You never chastised me, you would just take a swig of your beer and look effortlessly cool.  Or so I thought).  We talked, ate, visited and drank until our hearts were content.  We boarded the ferry back to Vermont.  The sun had gone behind the clouds but it was still warm out and we were both a little tipsy.  We made our way up to the open, top deck and you sat down, pulling me onto your lap.  I loved you so much that day.  All those days.  I laughed and kissed you and then the beauty of the Adirondacks stole my attention.  I made you stop kissing me and look at them-LOOK!  They were a deep green and their tips were buried in dark, moody clouds with sunbeams poking through in spots.  They were magnificent.  I had gotten into hiking that summer, and had talked with a male coworker about taking me to hike in the ‘dacks and knocking off a chunk of the famed, 46 peaks there.  I told you that I was going to climb those mountains with our coworker.  And you said “why not with me?”.  This still makes me laugh out loud, as it did then, because you barely took time to do anything besides work, exercise and go to eat/drink.  Though, to your credit, you did two hikes with me before the snow came-but I vowed not to hike with you again because you practically ran up Mount Hunger and seemed a lot more interested in the summit than the journey and experience.  Huh.  Go figure?

“And you chase me like a shadow

And you haunt me like a ghost

And I hate you some, and I love you some

But I miss you most.” 

-Gretchen Peters

 

 

Garbage, Rings and Colorado

Mirror LakeOn Saturday, I lost the ring you gave me.  I lost it in my own kitchen.

You had bought it for me when we were in Colorado.  The trip where you left me sitting at the Denver airport for over an hour, even though I’d told you when I would arrive.  When we got back to the hotel we sat at the bar and watched golf, talked about football, visited with people at the bar and got terrible hangovers after just a couple of drinks.  The next day, we drove out to the mountains and began the 25,000 foot ascent to the top of Mount Evans and saw mountain goats, elk and some of the most beautiful sites I had ever laid my eyes on.  We had some strangers snap some pictures of us at a vista point; sun in our eyes, arms around one another.  When we arrived at the summit I felt like I was on top of the world, literally and figuratively, and there was no one else in the world that I would have rather been there with.  No one else I would rather be seeing that view with.  I snapped a couple of pictures of you and then you, of me and finally a selfie of us together.  We drove out to Mirror Lake just before sunset and bore witness to the beauty and the stillness before beginning the drive back to Denver.  I remember having the radio up, the windows down (I always hated having the AC on), and Carrie Underwood blaring on the radio and I was singing along:

“I can hear those echoes in the wind at night
Calling me back in time
Back to you
In a place far away
Where the water meets the sky
The thought of it makes me smile
You are my tomorrow”

I reveled in the moment, all of my senses were alive.  I never felt happier, freer or safer than when I was by your side and I still have yet to experience that feeling with anyone else.  We went back to the hotel and out for a great dinner and to bed.  Everything was right in the world.

The next day we drove out to Vail.  Just when I thought that the mountains couldn’t possibly get any bigger or the landscape any more beautiful, it did.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and out into the mountain air.  We walked around the shops in the village and came across the farmers market (like the Louis Vuitton of farmers markets) and I was smitten on some unique jewelry at one of the booths, but I didn’t buy anything because it wasn’t really in my budget.  We went to lunch and you showed me how to eat oysters for the first time in my life.  An odd place for someone’s first oysters, in landlocked Colorado, but I remember you putting some lemon on them and some mignonette or cocktail sauce if I asked.  They were delicious and to this day I still think of you every time I get oysters.  I spoke about the ring that I had seen at the booth; the cut of the deep, purple center stone and the flash and dimension of the opals paved into the sides of the silver setting.  I’d never seen anything like it before, anywhere.  You said, “let’s go back-I’ll get it for you” and I was thrilled about both the ring and the sentiment.  We returned to the hotel that night and I stared at that ring almost the whole way back.  You brought me to the airport the next morning.

I wore that ring damn near every day for the last 8 years.  On Saturday, following a traumatic event on Friday, I took both of my rings off and set them on my kitchen counter.  I was constantly setting things down, wandering away and then forgetting where I’d set them.  I felt shell shocked, sad, frustrated and, as it almost always does, my mind and heart were longing for you.  I began chopping vegetables and my mind was unable to focus on just one thing.  I started emptying out containers of leftovers in the refrigerator because the garbage had been sitting for a couple of days and was getting smelly from the raw chicken I’d trimmed the night before.  I prepared some squash and asparagus for roasting and buzzed around cleaning the counter tops, all while my mind darted from one thing to another.  Once everything was put away, I realized that only one of my rings was left on the counter.  The one you’d bought for me was nowhere in sight.  I panicked.  How could I possibly lose one of the last tangible items I had from our relationship?? I looked on the floor, under the oven and refrigerator, in the dishwasher and in every cupboard that I remembered being in.  It occurred to me that it might have been under the napkin I had tossed out that I had set the trimmed asparagus stems on.  I felt a sense of relief now that I knew where it probably was and I pulled the garbage out, bent over it and carefully started picking through the area where that napkin was.

The ring was not visible and I began to take smelly, wet, gross items out one by one.  But then, I stopped.  WHAT WAS I DOING????  I was picking through the garbage for a ring given to me by a man who chose to throw me away.  Like a piece of garbage.  Discarded because he didn’t need me anymore-INTENTIONALLY.

I stood up, pushed the garbage away and washed my hands.  I was not going to go through that garbage.  I was not going after that ring, just like I don’t go after you anymore.  And even though I will miss that ring damn near as much as I miss you, I’m not willing to pick through the garbage for a piece of our history.  A history you couldn’t wait to dispose of.    

Shelter

I never really cared about owning an actual house, but I have been craving shelter my whole entire life.

Four walls have always made me feel like I was trapped but I can really appreciate a good strong roof.

Something to keep the rain off but also something open enough that I can see and access all directions.

How else can I see opportunities for growth approaching?  Windows offer a smaller scope, but take those walls out and you will see everything and everyone coming at you (or moving away from you).

Walls make me feel constricted and confined but a roof affords me the shelter I need, while satisfying my need for openness and accessibility.

So please-give me shelter.  Don’t try to put me in a box or a cage.

Shelter me from the hale, the sleet, the snow and everything else that life throws in my direction.

Give me a place to hunker down when I am feeling weak or sad or frightened.  Be a roof that will help me stand up to anything.

Then and only then, will I stay forever.

Out Archway of Moonbeam Cave

Last Night’s Dream

We are riding in a limousine and you’re in the middle of a long seat, wearing a tuxedo.  I am seated on the floor looking up at you, while you glare out the window speaking passionately about some issue out in the world.  I look up at you, rapt and lovingly but you just continue your ramble, you never return my gaze and I never speak to you.

We arrive at our destination, a bar or dance hall of some sort, where I am watching couples dance and perform.  I wish you were there to watch them with me but you are in a room off of the back, working on your laptop.  Between songs I go back to the room to find you and find Cassidy playing on the floor, not far from the table where your laptop is open.  Your suitcase is on the floor and open with several items spilling out but you are nowhere to be found.  Cassidy tells me that you are in the shower.  I instantly get that sinking feeling that I always got when I suspected that you were leaving again. This is just like you to do, show up and then leave.  “Why do I stay with you??” I must’ve muttered my thoughts out loud and Cassidy said, “but Mom, you love each other.”

2019-A Year in Burns

I got a few bad burns in 2019.  The kinds that will leave lasting scars, maybe for the rest of my life.

The first one was made by David, in April.  Or was it January??  It’s hard to tell because we broke up and got back together so many times.  Regardless, April was the clincher.  After over two years of on again/off again, things became much clearer as to WHY that was our pattern.  He was a liar of the worst variety, a gas lighter, an addict of some sort (but in honesty, I could never decipher if it was alcohol or something else), a manipulator and the consummate cheater.  After a good chunk of therapy, this burn is still visible but at least it doesn’t hurt anymore (but it does still piss me off).

The next one was on Mother’s Day when I burned the outside of my right thumb on the edge of my oven, as I was removing a pan of cinnamon buns that I had made for breakfast.  I had my first date with Michael that afternoon and felt an immediate connection.  A few weeks later, Michael grabbed my right hand while we were making love, stuck his thumb directly over that burn and ripped a hole open in the thin, new skin that had started to grow over the wound.  That still didn’t hurt as much as finding out a couple of weeks after that, that he was also manipulating me and hiding things.  The skin healed quickly and so did my heart, relatively speaking.  Now my eyes were open and I was able to recognize patterns and signs that drew me to guys like this.  I look at that scar every day and it reminds me to be vigilant in all sorts of ways.

In July, I burned the soft, underpart of my left wrist when I reached around the side of my waffle maker to unplug it from the wall.  A couple of days after that, I had my first date with Chris and he picked up my wrist and inspected it tenderly, remarking on how painful it looked.  I liked Chris a lot.  A few weeks later, things blew up suddenly and over something that I still think is stupid.  Chris disappeared but the scar on my wrist is still there.  I think of him when I look at it, but neither the scar or the thought hurts me.

The rest of year was all fire and although I got a little singed around the edges, I got close enough to enjoy the warmth and have no more burns to report.  I’ve given up cooking on Sunday mornings, my vision is clearer and I am once again OK with my scars.  All of them.

These Waters

If I’m not dancing, then I’d better be writing and
If I’m not writing then I’d better be dancing
These feelings I have inside are as powerful as the ocean and
They’ll flow through ink or
Through the fluid movements of dance
They’ll thrash around wild sometimes or
Trickle peacefully and as quiet as a tear
But you can’t stop their flow and damming them up
Only causes a bursting forth
That will do it’s best to destroy it’s vessel
And I’m awfully tired of crashing on the rocks
So I’m going to keep dancing
And I’m going to keep writing
Because in the absence of a lover who
Sees my tides,
Who isn’t afraid to dive into the waves
And who’s willing to anchor me when the waters get rough
Then these are the only safe harbors that I know

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Do You See What I See?

Siamese-cat-lady

With the recent move into our interim housing space, and with the holiday and yet another move only 2ish weeks away, the days seem to be flying by at lightning speed.  I literally and legitimately lost track last week of what actual day it was.  Like, had to take out my phone-I was that lost! When I looked up what day of the week it was, I also realized that my birthday is coming up in a month as well.  I will be 47.  If I am lucky (?) enough to live as long as either of my Grandmothers, then 47 puts me over the halfway point of my life.  Chances are, I won’t live to see another 47 years.  I don’t find this particularly alarming or upsetting, and when I think about it, I don’t really think that I WANT to see another 47 (that’s a story for another time). I just see the natural progression of my life.

Occasionally, I have moments in my life where things slow down and I can take a step back and see myself.  I see myself getting older.  I see myself getting more set in my ways.  And THAT part right there, that’s what bothers me.  For the sake of my life running smoothly, I am slipping further into the track of habit, necessity and predictability.  I feel myself internally bristle at something unexpected or doing things out of my “normal” way.  This scares the hell out of me.  When did I become so set in my ways?  When did I get so uptight?  I really do feel uptight.  Lately I feel like I am trying to “be cool”.  This morning, I was rinsing our my yogurt container and carefully separating the paper label from container to prepare it for recycling.  Someone I have a crush on asked me “why are you doing that?”, to which I answered (before I could even stop myself) “because that’s what the label says to do”.  He looked at me inquisitively.  A few moments later he said, “Jess, have you ever taken a Myers-Briggs personality test?”.  And in that second I was 10000% aware of how uptight and anal-retentive I looked.  And naturally, in front of someone I liked.  I said “Yes, I’m an ENTJ.  I’m in the right job!” and I smiled nervously.  (If you are not familiar with what an ENTJ is on Myers-Briggs personality type, it’s “The Commander” and our strengths include being efficient, energetic, self-confident, strong-willed, strategic thinkers, charismatic and inspiring.  But our weaknesses are stubborn, dominant, intolerant, impatient, arrogant, cold and ruthless.  Yikes.)   What I really wanted to say was, “I don’t NEED to take the label off, I just DO because I want to recycle as much as I can.  And I want to do it because I care about being a good steward to the earth and not because I have a ‘sorting’ need (even though I admittedly get a deep gratification from sorting).  I’m fun!  I can be spontaneous!  I don’t always play by the rules!  I’m very passionate, I’m a great kisser and I cry, sometimes a lot! Sure, I don’t really relax or have much chill, but I would if I had the right person to inspire me to!”.  Thankfully for everyone involved, including myself, I did NOT say any of that.  I just stood there looking like an uptight, inflexible prude.  And FEELING like an uptight, inflexible prude.   It sucked feeling like that and having someone I liked, see that.

When did this happen?  It seems like I am WATCHING myself becoming an old lady.  I can SEE myself becoming an “old maid” right in front of my very own eyes.  This bothers me.  My gray hairs and laugh lines bother me a little but my inflexibility and increasing crotchety-ness bothers me the most.