Friday, April 26, 2019

Past imperfect

And it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there

It’s been a quiet news day. Week. Month.

For me. For America, for the rest of the world, not so much. Between the obstructive antics of the Trump administration and the mass killings in Sri Lanka, in retaliation for the mass killing in New Zealand last month, the bad news of the world continues apace.

I feel almost guilty that my life is so peaceful and idyllic, and I feel guiltier for the fact that I continue to struggle.

A Facebook friend posted one of those things where you answer twenty questions. One in particular struck me and has stayed with me.
14. If you could talk to ANYONE, who would it be?

I’d go back to my kid self, the bullied social reject, and tell them all about my 50th birthday party. Tell them to hang in there, the social bullshit evens out with age for the most part.
It has made me wonder if I can characterize some of my childhood experiences as bullying. Being bullied. I’ve had random memories, fragments of memories really, that don’t make sense out of context but do make a pattern of sorts.

One memory is of throwing another girl’s flip flop into a patch of shrubbery. I even remember her name, Margaret. I was about 7 years old at a guess. That makes me sound like I was the bully. What I remember though is that I was roundly ostracized for throwing the shoe. What I don’t remember is why I did it. I do know that I wasn’t a gratuitously mean kid. So I must have had a reason.

Social reject much?

I was never a popular kid. Once in fourth grade, I was elected class president for a month. I ruled like a despot. I did myself no favors. I lost a lot of friends that month.

I used to blame my mother. She put a lot of pressure on me to be friends with the daughters of her friends, and found fault with any other friends I made. Sarah Goldberg was 12 going on 21 and her mother was kooky. Evelyn Pinto’s mom was a slob and Evelyn’s hygiene left a lot to be desired.

On the other hand, Marsha Oppenheimer was wonderful. But she already had a best friend, Nancy Marks, the smartest girl in my fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade classes. I was second-best friends with many, but best friends with none.

My mom dressed me in my cousin’s hand-me-downs. My cousin was four years older and much larger, so by the time her clothes fit me they were out of style. That shouldn’t matter but it did, all the more so because I was oblivious. I was simply not cool.

After all my elementary school years of being the odd girl out, I was determined to start off on the right foot in junior high. I immediately befriended Barbara Schulgasser because her mom was a friend of a friend of my mom’s, and I’d heard all about how smart and special she was. I thought she’d be the Nancy Marks of my seventh grade class, and I could be her Marsha Oppenheimer.

But almost immediately we got crosswise. At first we latched on to each other, sat together in class and at lunch, and requested to share a locker in the gloomy basement of Hunter College High School. She hung her coat on the left hook, I hung mine on the right. One day I got to school first and hung mine on the left. She moved it to the right and hung hers on her hook. So I threw hers on the floor. It went downhill from there.

Why did I do it though? What was I so angry about?

The other girls had all paired up by then, or formed little groups of three or four. I hastened to attach myself to a group. I ran ahead and saved seats for Anita and Pauline and Christine.

They sat in the seats, but they never saved a seat for me. They let me hang on and pretend to be one of them, but they didn’t really care about me.

I never knew who to sit with at lunch.

Once at summer camp I saw a couple of girls look at each other and roll their eyes when I sat down at their table.

By my last years in high school I’d given up. I was a loner. I skipped lunch and read in the library.

These memories are burned into my soul it seems.

So I was unpopular. But is that the same thing as being bullied?

Thinking back, I don’t recall much overt hostility. Mostly I was ignored. I wasn’t included. I wasn’t invited to parties. I was invisible.

I don’t think I liked myself much. But was that cause or result? Was I just reflecting back at myself the way I was treated or more accurately, the way I perceived that other people, other girls felt about me? Or did it have some intrinsic, sinister seed? Am I repressing some trauma, some abuse, something that created my self-distaste? Was I simply born that way?

And what was so wrong with me anyway? Why did I not know how to be in the world? How did I not know the right things to say? How did I manage to say the wrong things so often, the things that made me seem dorky? Or conceited? Or spiteful? Or whatever the hell makes kids your age not like you.

Unlike my Facebook friend, I’m not over it.

Oh, I like myself more. I’m less awkward and self conscious. I don’t think I say the wrong things. Maybe I forgive myself more. Maybe I am comfortable enough with myself to figure, if someone doesn’t like me, it’s their loss.

But I’m still no one’s best friend or even second best friend. Those long-ago years of being on the outside looking in must have left permanent scars.

Things did even out a bit in college. I made a best friend. Together we became part of a social group. But at the end of my freshman year, I was stunned when one of the boys in the group confessed to me that he was hung up on Sara. Not just that, he told me another boy was hung up on her too.

It made me think that they only tolerated me to be around her.

I’m grateful that she didn’t reciprocate either of the boys’ feelings. By the next year we’d moved on to another social group. By the end of that year I had a boyfriend who I dated through my senior year, and a reasonable circle of friends.

Over time, I’ve had ups and downs, pinnacles of acceptance and camaraderie, and periods of insecurity and loneliness. Highs and lows, like most people do I guess.

I’ve had unlikely friends. Friends who were 15 years younger, friends who were 20 years older. I’ve even reconnected on Facebook with a few high school classmates who seem to remember me fondly, as friends, even though I didn’t feel like I had friends back then. On the whole though, it’s the losses that haunt me.

Thirty some years ago, when I was pregnant with Kandace, I became close friends with a woman called Jennifer. For the second time in my life I had a best friend. For five years we were the kind of friends who shared everything.

Then, and I’ll never know the reason, she ghosted.

She stopped calling me. She never had time to talk any more. The chill was abrupt and not subtle.

At the time, I didn’t ask her why. I knew her well enough to know that she’d not be truthful.

But I grieved, just as I would have done if a lover had left me.

(Years later I did ask her why, and just as I expected, she made excuses. She’d just gotten really busy. Right. Whatever.)

It’s all water under the bridge now, or at least it should be.

I keep hoping that by writing it all out, I’ll somehow empower myself to stop brooding about it.

Because really, you can’t rewrite history. It is what it is. All you can do is start where you are. The past may be set in stone, the future isn’t.

Plus there’s this very precious thing that’s called today. The present. This moment. Right now.

Between the hurts of the past and the fragile, uncertain nature of the future, the thing I’m most guilty of is not fully cherishing all the peace, beauty, and goodness that envelopes me.

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
For this is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you'll find direction
Around some corner
Where it's been waiting to meet you,
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you're sleeping?
Well please don't be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
Maybe been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It's all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain,
Wind and water,
Believe it if you need it,
If you don't just pass it on
Sun and shower,
Wind and rain,
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

And it's just a box of rain
I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

(Philip Lesh / Robert C. Hunter © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

No words

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

I’ve been quiet lately.

I don’t mean here, although that would also be true.

But I’m talking about my real life now.

At home, Neil talks enough for both of us. About Trump, about the Yankees, about the news story du jour, especially if it involves a plane crash.

My intent is to be more patient with this, more tolerant, less irritable. I listen without comment. I bite my tongue so as not to say, I don’t care, about the Yankees especially.

He knows this, I’ve told him this enough times in the past, but apparently he can’t help himself from telling me what this batter did, what injury that fielder suffered. So I listen, without comment. Sometimes I listen without comment and then change the subject.

Somehow I don’t have a lot to say lately.

For a while now I’ve been pushing myself to do things out in the community. I take art classes. I go out to lunch with my classmates when invited. I go walking with a woman from my knitting class when she asks me.

I’ve always been told that I’m quiet, and this used to surprise me. I thought I talked my fair share. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed myself mostly listening. I listen to conversations in class. I speak less than ever.

Of course I respond when spoken to. I’m not socially incompetent. I’m not refraining from speaking if I have something to say.

I’m tired I think. I’m lonely I think, but I’m tired of chasing a solution to my loneliness. I’m tired of people starting to get to know me and then ghosting.

I don’t think I’m a misfit or unworthy of friendship. I may be rejection sensitive but I can’t ignore the pattern, the history repetition. And then I think, even if I’m different, I can’t be the only one, so where are all those other different people like me, and why can’t I connect with them.

I've barely left the house all week.

Last week Neil and I went on a hike with a group of people who hike together once a month. For the first time, I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was going through motions. I just wanted it to be over and go home.

I’m aware that losing interest in things you usually enjoy is a symptom of depression, and I consider whether I’m falling down the rabbit hole. Again. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety but I keep shoving it down, numbing it with crocheting or shopping for more yarn, binge-watching crime drama, walking on the treadmill.

I haven’t lost my appetite, which leads me to conclude that I’m not depressed. I’m not in a crisis. And I have bouts of feeling just fine.

I just have this bizarre sense of being really locked in to myself, imprisoned inside myself. And it’s manifesting in this strange silence.

Recently the phone rang and it was my stepdaughter. I answered because Neil had just stepped outside and I knew he'd be annoyed if I had just ignored it (something I'd do if he wasn't home for instance). I had a hard time enacting the basics of civility, making the minimum amount of small talk. I knew she wanted to speak to her dad and I wanted to get off the line.

Neil blew up at me a few days ago for ignoring him, saying that I was doing that more and more. I wasn’t. I was doing something on my iPad , probably something inane like looking at Facebook or yarn, but I heard every word he said. I just didn’t have anything to add, any comment on it. It was a statement, not a question needing a response. But I do understand wanting acknowledgement, even if it's just something like, hang on a sec, I'm in the middle of something.

I’ve never been good at multitasking. I do get focused on something and I do have a talent for tuning out everything else. That was a good thing when I worked in an open office environment. And Neil does have a tendency to start talking to me when I’m in the middle of reading an article or writing an email.

It does make me wonder if tuning out is the companion to being incommunicado, which is a bit like tuning inward.

This post might be the perfect example of how self-absorbed I really am, but I promise I’m writing it out as a way of trying to work through it.

We’ll see how that works for me.

In the meantime, life meanders on. We wound up season two of The OA and we're watching season three of Unforgotten and started season one of The Pinkertons. We’re queued up for the second half of season one of Sabrina. We finished season nine of Vera and are waiting for season five of Shetland. On the treadmill, I watched season two of The Break, and I’m in the midst of season two of Border Town. I’m waiting for season five of Bosch and debating whether to watch the last two seasons of Spiral next.

Neil is reading This Side of Paradise to me and we’re both baffled about why it was a bestseller in its time. With due respect to Fitzgerald, who after all wrote the masterpiece The Great Gatsby, it’s lame. I’m eager to get through it and move on to Tender is the Night, which I remember as a much better book. After that, maybe something by Dickens. Or maybe the Nick Adams stories by Hemingway.

I’m on a break from ceramics. I’m signed up for the next session, but I’m not sure whether I’ll keep going after that. I love the vibe at the Art Center, but ceramics is punishing my hands. The only classes there other than ceramics are painting classes. I haven’t ruled out the idea of watercolor painting.

I’m taking a sock knitting class at the moment, not because I want to knot socks but for the social aspect. Between the class fee and supplies, I’m knitting a one hundred dollar pair of socks. That is, if I finish them, after which I’m more likely to frame them than wear them. Why would anyone knit socks when you can buy such cute ones for next to nothing at Marshall's or TJ Maxx? I tell myself, making one pair is good for the skills I will learn.

I just finished a custom order for patriotic colored beads and I’m finishing another 100 pairs for Beads of Courage. In my copious spare time, I’m working on a really large wall piece to hang over the sofa in the TV room. After that, I’ve got another blanket planned and another shawl. And two more scarves for my stepson and my stepson-in-law. And yet another blanket, that one will be for Blake.

Here’s my first knitted shawl. The asymmetry is intentional.

It’s not perfect and the unicorn there is that I won’t save it, I’ll actually use it.

Where, well that remains to be seen.

You've been taken by the wind
You have known the kiss of sorrow
Doors that would not take you in
Outcast and a stranger

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

You have drunk a bitter wine
With none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind
Will be welcome at love's table

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

(Julie Anne Miller © BMG Rights Management US, LLC)