Love Doesn’t Need That Mess

I sat cross-legged on the floor, near enough to the other kids to look like part of the group. But, while they fidgeted and whispered, my attention remained rapt. Other kids felt mysterious to me; I never really got what they wanted me to say or do. Like maybe other kids had some sort of instruction manual, but mine–even though it should only have taken 4-6 weeks for delivery–was lost forever & now I was just going to wing it.

So far, it wasn’t going particularly well.

But adults: I knew how to be in their presence, knew what the expected responses were. In short: adults were easier. So I paid more attention to them.

So, now I sat dutifully on the tightly woven carpet of a Sunday school classroom, staring up at our teacher. It was just kind of in my nature to be bizarrely well behaved (and also, my mother’d put the fear of God in me about misbehaving in church). But also, even though I was only 7 or so, the kind of church we attended had already started drilling down on the “getting saved” bit.

Fires of hell? No, thank you. I was sure gonna pay attention to how to avoid all that mess.

But now, suddenly, the teacher started talking about dreams and waking up in the middle of the night. My ears pricked forward. Because I couldn’t ever remember a time I didn’t wake up with my heart frozen in terror, my feet pounding the floor to my parents’ bedroom before I even registered my first real, waking thought.

Maybe I’d get some solid advice on how to not be scared. Because adults know things, right? Or at least at that point I thought they did. (Now I know better.) Adults always seemed to have some secret key to universal knowledge that would magically unlock all the answers and make the world make sense. I could not wait to be one of them. An adult with answers. That was my aspirational goal. At 7.

Although I can’t remember this part super clearly, I’m pretty sure the teacher opened this whole conversation with the “Satan is tricky” motif. Fair enough. A universal antagonist.

But in these stories, Satan was always trying to get in. Actively. Not in a dual nature, we all have good-and-evil inside, choose wisely sort of way. Like in a monster who breathes sulfur, who can morph and change and trick you, so you always have to be on guard to fight as a warrior for Christ sort of way.

Let’s just be clear: that’s some scary shit.

But this man is going to tell me how to keep Satan at bay. At least I hope so. Because now I’m really scared.

“If you ever wake up in the middle of the night,” he continues on (and this should sound like a ghost story, but for all the world it doesn’t. It sounds more like practical advice, like how to escape your house in the case of fire), “and you see a loved one who has died standing in your room (here I thought of my great-grandmother, because she was literally the only person I knew who’d died at that point) and that loved one calls to you, do not go to them. It may actually be a demon calling you to them. Satan will try to get at you whatever way he can. He’ll even use the memory of people you love who have died.”

What. the. actual. fuck?!?

For years afterward–years–I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see the visage of my great-grandmother bathed in moonlight beckoning me to her. And what if I wasn’t strong enough to resist? What if I was lured to her and spent eternity with the fires of hell raging around me because I’d made a mistake?

That’s a damn big ‘what if’ for a kid to carry around.

Not until I was an adult did I see clearly that fear is simply a way to rule over and control people. Love, real love, has nothing to do with fear. Love doesn’t need that mess. Not at all.

I wish I could go back and tell that 7 year old that the Universe is full of love for her. That she can find all the peace she needs right inside her own heart. And that one day, she’ll have no idea what God is–not at all. And that not-knowing will feel like such a gift, full of possibility and light.

But I’ll settle for telling a little bit of her story. Because that’s healing in its own right, too.

How Does She Manage This Stuff?

When I arrive back home from my daily sojourn to deliver books, Jane meets me in the kitchen to regale me with tales from her day. Or to stand there repeatedly asking what we’re having for dinner. Either way.

Earlier this week, she proudly announced that she’d struck a deal with her father wherein he was renting a twin mattress for the office from her.

If you don’t live in this family, I’m sure that could be confusing as hell, so I’ll break it down real quick: Simon snores. Like a chainsaw. We’ve tried various remedies and fixes. And still. Because I am not some sort of demigod, I cannot sleep through that blessed racket. We finally landed on a compromise in which we go to bed together and then, when it’s all Chainsaw City up in here, I wake him and he migrates to a lovely little set-up in the office.

It took me years to admit to myself that our marriage would not dissolve like Kool-aid powder in water if we slept in separate spaces. And that I have to have good sleep to function. And that the desire to smother him with a pillow would be a hell of a lot less if it didn’t sound like I was sleeping in a construction zone.

He ordered a new mattress for the office. He deserves optimal sleep, too. But shipping was going to take a few days, so he asked Jane if he could borrow the twin mattress on her loft (where she isn’t even sleeping right now). For a couple days until his nifty new hybrid spring/memory foam mattress arrived.

Earlier during this endless quarantine, Jane discovered the joy in rearranging her room on the daily. She also likes to ask if she can have pretty much anything her father or I could actually lay claim to in this house. What do I mean? Well. she asked me if she could have the master bedroom the other day. I kid you not.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could move Couch Bed from the office into her room. Couch Bed is precisely what it sounds like: a squishy & utilitarian little Transformer that flips up to be a couch during the day & a bed at night. Nifty.

Obviously, we aren’t using it for guests right now (hello, pandemic), so sure. Why not?

Now Jane’s got her own pseudo-apartment in our house. A couch during the day. A loft with a desk for reading and “working.” A flipped down queen-size bed at night. She even has a waiting area, where she suggested I could sit on a bean bad, read a magazine, and wait to speak to her.

Good Lord.

Back to the mattress…

When Simon asked her to borrow it, she hemmed and hawed. I rolled my eyes so far back in my head they almost got stuck there. Because (FOR REAL, GIRL) share. But I let it be.

And I come home and now she’s a mattress landlord.

To be fair, Simon offered to pay her to borrow said mattress. And Jane is a shrewd money manager. She’s always saving to buy something. I don’t doubt that, if she’d had access to the stock market, she would’ve had an impressive portfolio to concern herself with when the pandemic hit. But, alas, she’s NINE, so her chief concern is how to squeeze her parents for more cash.

When Simon asked her what a fair price would be, she suggested $10 a day.

He countered with a much more reasonable $3 per day rate.

She deliberated for a while. Until he reminded her that, if she waited too long, Mommy would come home and just take the mattress and move it to the office. And she’d get nothing.

It’s so good to be really seen by your people, you know? Because hell yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

So, Jane’s relaying this tale rather nonchalantly, and she says, “So, I get 8 dollars for lending him the mattress until Friday. It was supposed to by $9.” Here she shrugs, wrinkles up her little nose, and says, “I don’t know what happened there.”

Oh, girl, I don’t know what happened there, either.

Grace in the Oddest Places

I was sitting on the floor, sandwich wrapper splayed out flat in front of me. The lettuce shreds fought a valiant fight, but most of them now lay helter skelter across the paper spilling onto the floor, discarded sandwich scrapnel. I dug under a tomato to get to the last remaining piece of cheese, pressed into the bread by the weight of the sandwich so that it left a triangle indentation when I pulled it up.

“That’s what I like about you,” she said, looking at me earnestly and grinning. “You always pull the cheese off when you’re done with your sandwich, instead of the meat.” She beamed. She was a vegetarian. Had been for years already. She bought me the sandwich with her meal plan points, which she had to blow through by the end of the semester. It’s hard to eat that many sandwiches by yourself apparently.

I felt a flood of warmth pulse through my chest. It wasn’t about the cheese, although it was true that cheese was my favorite mode of sustenance. It was that she’d seen me, just for a second. She’d noticed some small, seemingly insignificant thing about me–and she liked it. And, even more miraculous, I could let her like it, without that cold, tight fear starting in my heart and seeping slowly down into my fingertips.

Maybe, just maybe, I even wanted her to see me.

I was drawn to her like breath. My heart was laid bare every time I was near her, even if she didn’t know it yet. Who has words for that at 18 years old?

That kind of belonging, without condition, lush with love and acceptance, when you’ve been fighting an internal war that’s left you emotionally bedraggled and just about half-dead… well, it’s a gift. It’s grace.

And sure, the first time she ever told me she cared may have been over a piece of cheese. But, my god, the sheer magic of finding the person who calls you out of yourself and into the world when you were sure, so sure, that at your core you were destined to be alone and misunderstood forever (18 is full of BIG feelings, and absolutes, and existential drama)…

Her seeing gave me solid footing. It felt like hope. It made things possible and expansive and intoxicatingly joyful.

That piece of cheese broke open the whole world for me.

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

An Enneagram of One’s Own

I’ve been married almost 14 years. Which is both forever and not nearly long enough. But one of the things I most know about my person is that once he really gets into a thing, it’s best to join him for the ride. Otherwise, there’s going to be a side circus going on & I’ll just be looking all perplexed and possibly confounded. But most of all, just left out. No, it’s better to go ahead, roll up my sleeves and dig in a bit to his current obsession.

For a while the thing was organizational systems. (y-a-w-n) If there’s anything I resist as if it is actually trying to kill me, it is planners and lists, timelines and flowcharts. I get that organizational systems, for him, are tied to bigger life goal/psychic things he’s working on. But good god almighty, it’s hard for me to invest in. He says “bullet list” and my eyes glaze over.

But, fortunately for me, for a good while he’s also been into personality tests. Which is clearly much more exciting. The inner workings of people? Yes! Let’s analyze that! And, like anything he becomes–ahem–obsessed with, he knows a lot about different personality types, with a keen focus on what drives them to do what they do.

Right now, it’s all Enneagram all the time.

I’m well versed in his Enneagram number. We’ve watched videos, read excerpts, laughed at memes. I’ve watched him try to puzzle out what Enneagram number our daughter might be. And he’s real, real confident he knows exactly what number I am.

But, come on, I can’t just take his word for it, right? Sure he’s approximately a million times more well-versed in this than I am. But lordamercy, I’ve let people tell me about myself all my life. I’m taking that power back, thankyouverymuch.

So, last night I took an Enneagram test.

Holy vexation.

Parsing out my aspirational self from my actual self? Yeah, I guess maybe I’m not so good at that? All I know is that I’d look at the most basic questions about what drives me as a person and be all “I dunno.” Which, for a person who prides herself on being introspective, is all kinds of unmooring.

I am adrift, y’all.

Because what’s required to make the Enneagram work is that I look back on my whole life and take, as a sum, what’s motivated me. Well, shit. I mean, the past 11 years of my life have been a quest to completely overhaul the way I behave, see, and interact with life. Which is why to dig back through who I want to be, the ways I want to be seen and to treat people, underneath to what actually drives me is … well … GOD AWFUL.

And, even more interior-chaos-inducing: the Enneagram doesn’t offer a definitive answer. I had to read up on the personality characteristics of my top 3 types and decide which one I was.

Stop it. That’s too much.

Still, I pressed on. Because I’m brave like that.

I may have a perfectionist tendency or two, because I took the test three times. I agonized over the top 3 personality types that kept showing up until, finally, Simon took mercy on me and told me to read the descriptions of the top 3 to him. So, of course, I started with the one that he hadn’t picked out as my number. And I was all like “yes this!” to like, 75% of it. Which felt really high to me. But how could that be?!? Because the number I was reading is the same number he is and we’re so different and…

Read the other two, he suggested.

So I read the other one that he hadn’t picked as my number.

I got just a ways in before I realized, and had to admit aloud, that these characteristics were who I aspired to be. Not innately who I was. Which was kind of a blow. Because that was #2, The Helper. And of course I want to be someone that helps and nurtures. And I am those things, sometimes. Because I’ve decided to be. But it isn’t what comes most naturally.

So, with great resignation and some tremendous sighing, I read the number Simon had pegged as my personality type months and months ago.

Every last line. Every last line rang true.

DAMN IT! I hate it when he’s right.

As he talked me off that little ledge, he reminded me (gently) that everyone gets a choice about how they behave. Inner motivations, not so much. And nothing more potently makes room for change than to first simply accept what is.

That’s, you know, a pretty profound life lesson for a regular old Monday night.

Turns out, he had my number all along*.

*(ha! sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Oh, are you still hanging around? Fine. I’m a Type 1, The Moral Perfectionist. And don’t you dare say that seems obvious. Don’t do it. Even if it’s true.

A Fraction of a Damn

“To be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

I’ve spent 11 years learning not to give a damn what other people think. It’s a work in progress, for sure. I’ve got a deep yearning to be liked by all the people. But likablity isn’t authenticity. And being likable doesn’t leave much to stand on when life starts roiling about being its usually wily self.

Once, when a friend faced a tough decision (the kind that makes sleep scarce and makes you re-examine your life and values), she sighed, “I wish I could just not care what other people think, like you do. But I’m not like that.”

Well shit. I’m not like that either. Not just naturally. And I’ve always envied the folks who seemed born waving their middle finger at the world, doing what they want, and to hell with the rest of ’em. But that’s never been my natural state.

What I am is wise enough to know that living my life in a way that made other people happy, seeking their approval and approbation, was killing me. Literally. I could not make the inner chorus of doubters and naysayers (who was made up primarily of outside voices I’d allowed to crash on my psychic couch & now they’d taken up permanent residence) shut the hell up, no matter what I did.

I’d do what I thought they wanted. Nope. Wasn’t enough. Or it was the wrong thing. I’d misunderstood the task, gone about it wrong, didn’t perform perfectly. The list went on and on and on. But it amounted to one thing: I wasn’t good enough & never would be.

And so, I drank to shut them up. And the price for their silence almost killed me.

That is some fuckery.

And so, I had to let it all go. Not because I’m valiant and brave and completely self-possessed. But because I wanted to live.

Rising from the ashes of being a yes-girl to my inner chorus took years (and some quality therapists). Because I’d stopped trusting myself long ago. I had to rediscover my voice through the cacophony. It took time to learn to trust myself again. Because first I had to excavate who I am from all that wreckage.

The work isn’t magic. I still get struck with that god-awful mixture of shame & fear that burns in my chest when I think I’ve done something that folks won’t like, something that will ultimately render me unlovable.

But fear’s a lying bastard. And I know it.

So, I sift through my the things that cloud my vision, dig down to that inner knowing, and listen. I wait until I know what the next right thing is. And then I do that.

And it isn’t that I don’t care what people think. Or that I’m never stung by their responses. It’s just that I care what I think more. Because the one person I can’t live, can’t breathe, if I’m exiled from is myself.

Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash

Quarantine is…

new, punk-rock haircuts. Because, why not?

a whole lot of Little Debbies. (Literally. New day, new Debbie.)

worrying about folks who play like they’re oblivious to the pandemic.

walking the dog, running, and taking a bike ride. All in the same morning.

deep, real grief at the loss of physical connection.

watching our 9 year old entertain herself by “chickening.” (It’s real weird. Looks and sounds about like an asthmatic chicken in a tizzy. It’s a special time, y’all.)

getting angry when folks can’t seem to measure 6 feet properly (I’ve got zero spacial orientation, but I know if my arm can brush yours, you sure aren’t 6 feet from me).

wanting Zestos ice cream so bad I can imagine-taste it.

buying shirts from our favorite ATL places in the hopes that they’ll still be here when this is over.

wondering if this is endless. Like eternity. Or the television run of Law & Order.

laughing at the itty bitty bunch of grapes we got in our grocery delivery (If we were field mice, they might’ve been enough. But only if we were field mice that didn’t really care for grapes that much anyway.)

reading books just because I want to–no agenda, no timeline, just me & the book. (the best kind of bliss)

quitting washing my hair–because when else will I have the opportunity to see what happens?

a month in, wishing I’d never taken the opportunity to see what happens.

wondering why wearing a mask around your neck ever feels like the right thing to do?

having coffee each morning with my guy and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be. And being grateful (mostly).

listening to our kid lay out the backstory for her favorite cats in the Warrior Cats series. It’s kind of epic. And weird. And she knows a helluva lot about those damn cats.

finally embracing FaceTime. (But I’m still 10 kinds of awkward on a video call)

crying when our daughter cries about missing her friends.

crying because I miss my best friend.

crying because.

laughing. More often than I cry.

time to think, to examine, to unearth who I want to be.

meditation, and yoga, and deep breaths.

gratitude that I really like these 2 that I live with.

gratitude that I’m alive.

time.

and more Little Debbies.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of I Don’t Want to Be Crazy

I Don’t Want to be Crazy, by Samantha Schultz, made me a little cagey.  

But only because her truth resonated so profoundly with me. I wanted to run away from it, brush it off, escape from the memories of living with panic disorder. 

It is hell. 

Schultz captures the experience of being young, wildly self-absorbed (100% a rite of passage), and battling a serious mental health issue with a laser precision. If I could, I’d make this required reading for everyone.  

Period.  

Because in the thick of it, all I wanted was for people to understand what it felt like to be fighting for my sanity at a party while everyone else laughed and acted like they were really alive, while I was just barely exisiting, engulfed in utter hopelessness, sure that there would never be a normal.  

This book frustrated me, too—in the way that things do when they remind you of a self you hope you’ve left behind. But ultimately I felt seen, and I wish my younger, panic ridden self (or even my early 30s panicked self) could have read this book. Because then I would’ve known that I wasn’t alone. And maybe no one is really normal, after all. 

Ultimately, Schultz draws hope out of despair. And she lays out the most promising part of her truth: you can get better. But it’s gonna take a helluva lot of work, perseverance, and determination. But there’s always room for hope.